Friday, June 30, 2006

Signs & Wonders Part IV: The Absolute Sufficiency of God’s Word Cont’

No, the Signs and Wonders series wasn’t swallowed by the Red Sea - I have just been too busy to get back to it all with any degree of time, energy or effort. So I’m back at it, with the resolve to do a better job of keeping up a better pace. In the previous post we examined this text carefully:

Hebrews 2:1-4: 2:1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? which was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

This text affirmed the truth that the Lord’s signs and wonders are a subordinate means to the greater end of confirming the Word of God. Grammatically (and graphically), this is very plain to see:

This is a crucial observation indeed. It is one that would prevent us from exalting God’s signs and wonders over Scripture. Thus, we are reminded of the absolute sufficiency and priority of Holy Writ. Therefore, of the four Biblical bases of the Lord’s signs and wonders, we see that this principle of confirmation is central: Confirmation of God’s messengers, and confirmation of His message:

  • To disclose God’s glory and power to this world of men, without exception (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:20).
  • To render a clear confirmation of His divine revelation (Joel 2:30-32, Luke 21:25-26).
  • To affirm His uniquely appointed messengers (Romans 15:18-19, 2 Corinthians 12:12). (from Signs & Wonders Part II)
  • To disclose His glory for all eternity (Revelation 15:1-4).

I keep repeating this word confirmation, in order to stress what the author of Hebrews emphasizes: God’s revelation has been confirmed already. The instrumentality of His signs and wonders, as manifested amidst the apostolic generation, has already served its purpose because - God’s word has been confirmed. This verb, employed in verse 3, is ebebaiothe, which speaks of something that is reliable, certain or firm. The author of Hebrews uses this word once again in Hebrews chapter 6 in order to emphasize the surety of God and His Word. To do this he recalled the example of Abraham who patiently waited on the Lord to fulfill His promises (13-15); he then reminded his readers of God’s immutable nature and His inscrutable oaths:

Hebrews 6:17b-19: 17b. ...God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast [bebaian] and one which enters within the veil...

Here is a crucial insight into this important word [bebaios] - it is a word which speaks of something which stands and cannot move. According to TDNT the primitive concept of this word is that of “standing firm on the feet” - denoting something that is steadfast and immoveable. In the Septuagint this term was used to speak of a financial transaction whereby the buyer would receive a bebaiosis, which was a legally binding confirmation of a transaction [Lev. 25:23, 30]. The Apostle Peter used this word as well concerning God’s prophetic revelation:

2 Peter 1:16-19: 16For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982. [Bold, mine]

Peter clearly wanted the church to comprehend that the Word of God is indeed sure - so much so that we must use it as our lamp shining in the darkness. The Lord’s prophetic revelation, already having been confirmed, is our immutable and undiminished source of light throughout life.

Now these examples have been supplied here in order to illustrate how this word is used with respect to God’s Word; but we must go back to Hebrews 2:3 and consider that primary [governing] verb in order to understand what else is emphasized there:

Greek verbs contain a great deal of important information. Sometimes they can be so involved that four or more English words are required in order to represent just one Greek verb. In our case, only two English words are employed to represent ebebaiothe. In most cases English translators have to use what are called auxillary and notional verbs in order to represent these robust Greek verbs. The notional verb contains the central verbal idea, whereas auxillary verbs clarify some additional details that often relate to the tense, voice and mood of the verb itself. In our case the Aorist passive verb [ebebaiothe] is related through the auxillary word was and the notional verb confirmed. The word “was” reminds us of two things - this verb is passive and it is indicative: passivity means that God’s word received the action of confirmation and that it is indicative means that this confirmation was not some mere potentiality or possibility - it really happened. The notional verb “confirmed” speaks of completed action, and as in this case this represents the simple concept of the aorist verb. The fact that it is both aorist and indicative indicates past time with reference to the time of speaking. We could put it this way - God has already demonstrated, through His apostolic messengers, that His Word is sure. His public confirmation of His own message and His messengers has in fact been completed. The instrumental means by which this was accomplished (God bearing witness with His Apostles through the signs and wonders that He worked through them) subordinately served this ultimate work of God - ebebaiothe - the confirmation of His revelation.

Now before you try to think ahead of this series (and trust me, there are several more texts which we must consult), I would just ask that you hang on and consider the simple principle as it is presented to us in this wonderfully clear and simple text in Hebrews 2. In fact, let me summarize the crucial implications of this text as it relates to Hebrews overall, and to us all in the here-and-now:

  • Let’s back up for a moment and remember one of the key objectives of the book of Hebrews - This letter was written to a community of Jews, many of whom were believers (Heb. 6:9), while others were false brethren (Hebrews 6:1-8). Those who professed Christ suffered severly for it (Hebrews 10-11) and therefore needed to be reminded of the true hope of Christ whose supremacy over all things is indeed the grounds of our joy and confidence (Hebrews 6:9-20). Therefore, to premise his message of hope to this despairing community, the author of Hebrews prefaced his entire letter on this subject: the perfection and completeness of God’s revelation concerning His son (Hebrews 1-3). It is a revelation that is sure; it is a revelation that has been given in many portions and in many ways throughout the generations (Hebrews 1:1); it is a revelation that is consummately revealed through the exalted Son Himself (Hebrews 1:2-14) and it is a revelation that was delivered through His apostles, having already been firmly established (confirmed) as God’s complete, sufficient and immutable revelation to men, without repentance, for God cannot lie. This is indeed a hopeful message - His word is sure - it has in fact been confirmed.
  • When we consider Hebrews 2 today, we too must be challenged to a greater hope as were the struggling Christians of the 1st century - and this is why: The very sure word that was entrusted to that generation is no less sure today - In a sense we must confess that the Apostles speak to us today indeed - not through flesh and blood, but through ink and paper, through the record of God’s Word. Ultimately, our Chief Apostle, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1), speaks directly to us today. His authority, as communicated through the apostles and prophets of that generation, communicates to us today with just as much power and authority as if He were here with us today in flesh and blood. The surety of God’s Word is no quaint doctrine - this is a truth that is foundational to our hope in Christ.
  • Therefore, in our pursuit of truth - we must seek out God’s confirmed Scriptures as we ultimately pursue the person of Christ Himself. He is our chief end, and we can hear from Him with confidence, knowing that the very Scriptures that He left us, through His servants, are sufficient, complete and all that we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him.

These are, I believe, very important and comforting reflections for all believers. It is a meditation which elevates our appreciation of Holy Writ. Though I would love to eye-witness these events, I really don’t need to see the Red Sea being parted, nor even a dead man being raised from his grave. Instead, I can confidently know of these things through what God has revealed through His already confirmed word. But does does any of this then mean that there is no place for signs and wonders today? Doesn’t the constancy of God’s nature require that His signs and wonders continue to this day? Well, these questions will govern our study next time...

The Mortification of Rats

Here is a rather peculiar story - one that reminds us that reality is often stranger than fiction. It even reminds us that much of what happens in this world can be seen as a kind of metaphor for spiritual truth:

According to a CNN news report, Roger Dier of Petaluma California, had to have 1, 300 rats removed from his home by animal control officers. But interestingly, this infestation came about by Dier’s own hand. Four years ago Dier bought a baby rat to offer as food to his pet Indian python; but when he saw the rat “squeaking for its life” he couldn’t go through with the procedure. Instead he “took the rat out of the cage and got to know it.” He bought a few more (failing to have them spayed or neutered) and... the rest is history. Dier’s infestation problem remained a secret until a neighbor complained about the smell. When the animal control officers arrived they found rats stacked on top of each other in their cages; there were rat droppings mixed with feed mix on the floor, gnawed walls and the strong odor of urine throughout the home. The rats were so crowded that some were missing eyes and limbs - most had to be euthanized. And if this weren’t strange enough, add to this the fact that in 1963 Dier’s Culver City apartment was used as a hideout by two men who were later convicted of kidnapping Frank Sinatra Jr., son of the legendary king of the “Rat Pack.”

The irony.

Dier told reporters that his depression and loneliness prevented him from doing anything about the infestation. He said - "It was this force of nature that overwhelmed me."

Of course, Mr. Dier was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty.

When I read this I couldn’t help but to think of how this is in many ways a metaphor for the corruptions of human sin. When Mr. Dier said “It was this force of nature that overwhelmed me” I couldn’t help but to think that he could have said the same thing about indwelling sin in the heart of man - frankly, all human transgression will breed like rats -

  • In many ways, we treat sin like Mr. Dier treated his rats. Instead of seeing sin for what it is (something that needs to be destroyed), we will often pause and deceptively gain affection for it - justifying its existence in our minds, even choosing to nurture it and feed it, rather than seeking out its destruction.
  • This one failure of ours then leads to an infestation. Sin in the heart of man breeds like rats. The heart that justifies one form of wickedness can quickly move to justify a thousand others.
  • Mr. Dier’s household was overwhelmed by the foul stench of 1, 300 rats. It became so bad that it could not even be hid from his neighbors. Like Mr. Dier’s situation, indwelling sin begins on a small scale, but then it expands and affects every aspect of our lives. Eventually, that which was seemingly small and imperceptible in the beginning becomes something that is plain and obvious to others. And so it is with the little leaven of our sin.
  • When we come to recognize our sin, we ought to be filled with a godly anxiety over it (Psalm 38:18). The solution is to deal with the matter by confessing it to God as we cast our anxieties upon Him. If we don’t do this, then we slip into a sinful anxiety and depression that only deepens our despair, and furthers our wickedness.
  • And of course - Mr. Dier was cited for misdemeanor animal cruelty. It never ceases to amaze me that we actually live in a world that has made a prosperous business out of killing unborn children. Yes, if you kill an unborn child (an act referred to by some as “abortion”) then you can receive a monetary reward for your actions. But if you mistreat a rat - you better watch out! But this is in fact the world that we live in. It is a world that calls evil good, and good evil (Isaiah 5:20).

By drawing these parallels, I am in no way trying to pick on Mr. Dier. In fact, what I have written "It was this force of nature that overwhelmed me."should be a reminder that we are very much like the man. Spiritually speaking, we too have a battle with rat infestation. But there is a distinction. For the natural man, all that he can confess is this: my sin is a force of nature that overwhelms me. This is another way of saying - I am a bondslave to sin. But when the Christian sins, he does so contrary to his freedom in Christ, having been tempted by his own lusts and deception (James 1:13-15). But the principle remains true - we must guard against the infestation of sin in our lives by the power of Christ alone.

Thus, my advice to you today is - be sure to find and kill as many of your rats as you can!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Evolution Is Absolutely Unbelievable

...really - it is literally un-believable...

Genesis 1:24-25:

24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good. [NASB]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Heart of a True Disciple

It is a theme that is worth repeating again and again: without the love of God, our servitude is counted as nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-7). Clearly, this central treasure of God-centered love has been evident in the lives of saints throughout history; but the chief architect of this pattern of piety is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who did all things out of His infinite love for the Father:

John 14:31: 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. [ESV]

When we think of the Lord’s worldwide message, we often think of the Gospel itself which plainly speaks of the Lord’s wonderful love for mankind (Titus 3:1-5); but according to John 14:31, there is another message that is worthy of world renown - it is the message of the Son’s perfect love for the Father. The Lord Jesus Christ wanted the world to know that He did all things out of a loving desire to do the things that are pleasing to the Father - those things that were in keeping with His perfect will:

John 8:29: 29 “And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” [ESV]

John 8:29 reinforces our understanding of John 13:31. The Savior could never be accused of heartless obedience to the Father - may it never be! Instead, all that He did was accomplished out of a heart of adoration and affectionate love for the Father. Contextually, John 14:31 is the capstone of the Savior’s description of a genuine Christian’s love and obedience:

John 14:21-24: 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. [ESV]

In the previous discussion concerning love, the Savior drew a very clear link between a person’s actions and the condition of their heart. Those who love Christ will have and keep His word. Those who do not love the Savior will not keep (obey) His words. This important teaching comes to us just after Judas went away in order to betray the Lord. Contextually, His teaching is as timely as can be. He wants the remaining eleven to understand the following principles, according to John 14:21-24:

  • It is not enough to have the Lord’s commands. The Pharisees had the commandments of God, but they were utterly devoid of any love for God (John 5:39-42). Clearly Judas had a knowledge of the Lord’s commandments, but resolved not to keep them.
  • It is not enough to merely obey the Lord, for He desires more than heartless obedience from His disciples. In all things, we are to serve the Lord out of a heart of love for Christ, as He declared - “whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”

Mere obedience is not an indicator of true faith and love, for we know that there will be many who will have named the name of Christ, but never knew Him:

Matthew 7:18-23: 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

In this context of Matthew 7 the word “know” [egnön] speaks of the idea of a relationship - that is, a loving relationship. Like Judas, whose appearance was undetected for so many year, there are many whose service to the Lord may be very impressive - even spectacular; but without a relationship of love, it all amounts to nothing but a selfish pursuit of mere religion. Here is the importance of the Savior’s own example before us. His deeds were born out of a heart of righteous devotion. Obedience to the Father’s will was not something that was done with private disdain, but with the joy of doing all that which is pleasing to the Father.

John 14:28: 28 “You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father...”

The joy that was set before the Son (Hebrews 12:1-2) was the joy of doing the Father’s will, from beginning to the end:

  1. Through His ministry with the disciples.
  2. Through His arrest, persecution and conviction.
  3. Through His torture and crucifixion.
  4. Through His resurrection and...
  5. Through His ascension.

Every ounce of obedience that was rendered by the Son, to the Father, was given because, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:31). By the Redeemer’s example we comprehend that we become better disciples when we imitate the pattern of loving obedience that is found in the Son Himself. When the Savior was asked which was the greatest commandment of all, He responded as follows:

Mark 12:28-31: 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these."

Here is the greatest motivation to be found in the heart of any Christian; it is the same motivation that is found in the bosom of the Savior who did all things out of His great love for the Father.

Behold, the wonderful love of God - we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Armour for Family Worship: On Teaching And Being Taught

A father's ministry of discipleship in the home certainly does not consist of formal times of study and prayer alone. Ultimately, the father's spiritual ministry in the home must affect and influence every aspect of life, whether formal or informal; thus, his mentoring labors never end. But such a ministry as this requires the constant input of diligent learning. Like a pastor of a church, the husband & father who engages in such a ministry of teaching will be a learner more than he is a giver of instruction. This is true because in order for a man to teach others, he must first receive the blessing of instruction from the Lord and His word:

2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [KJV]

The father, as the guardian and shepherd of his home, must labor to study and apply God’s word for his own spiritual profit before he can benefit those who are under his care. Thus, he must be humbled beneath the authority of God before he can instruct others with any authority at all (Isaiah 66:1-2); and like his teaching, his learning will take place in not only formal settings of study and contemplation, but also in the many informal contexts of life. For example, I was reminded of this recently after my wife and I had a small chit-chat with our two year old (Lydia). I often have to get interpretive help when deciphering Lydia’s speech - she’s improving rapidly, but she’s still a two year old. So her contemplation went something like this:

Mommy gugu me...Daddy gugu me...(then, shaking her head she said) Jesus not gugu me.

Ultimately, Lydia’s contemplation was born out of her review of those whom she knew loved her, and who evidenced that love through hugs (snuggle = ”gugu”). Yes, our junior empiricist considered the physical facts set before her, based upon her observations to date: “Mommy hugs me, Daddy hugs me - but Jesus has not hugged me.” It was apparent to us that we needed to stop and take the time to talk to her about the supremacy of the Lord’s love over our own for her. Now before we go any further here, know this - all this took place between another moment of 2-year-old-potty-training and dinner. Our other four kids had set the table and were waiting for us downstairs. Of course, potty-training is important, and eating is a necessity - but Lydia’s query was far more important than any of these other “needs.” We took just a few moments to share with her, at her level of comprehension, that we loved her dearly - but Jesus’ hugs are so much better than ours because His love was so great that He died for us on the cross. After all was said and done, we proceeded on to the dining room, gave thanks to the Lord for His infinite love and then we enjoyed a meal together.

Well, the moment was over - but the memory of her question lingered. Afterwards, I couldn’t help but to think of the importance of Lydia’s own contemplation, and the Scriptures that related to her crucial question:

Isaiah 40:11: 11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Psalm 28:6-9: 6 Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplication. 7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him. 8 The Lord is their strength, And He is a saving defense to His anointed. 9 Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.

John 10:27-30: 27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 "My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 "I and the Father are one."

The subject of a loving embrace may not appear to be so important at a first glance, but I would remind you that it is the central hope of every Christian - to be held forever in the loving embrace of our Lord, because those who are His, He will embrace and carry forever! All of these texts ought to flood our thoughts concerning the eternality and depth of His love; the wonder of His affections for His people and the infinitudes of His perfect care and protection. But along with all of this, let us be reminded of the importance of being engaged, as a parent, in a continual consideration of the Bible’s application to our daily life - all our words and deeds. You see, even the simple question of a two year old became an opportunity to stop and contemplate the Bible’s relevancy over something as simple as a hug. Ultimately, this became an opportunity to praise the Lord for the wonder of His loving embrace - a contemplation that afforded yet another Gospel opportunity in our family worship time, by looking at Isaiah 40:11, Psalm 28:6-9 and John 10:27-30. What a wonderful opportunity this became for myself and the family! But oh how easy it would have been to miss it all amidst the busy pace of life!

I am thankful for yet another providential opportunity to teach, then learn, and then teach again. So many thanks Lydia! But most of all - thank you Lord!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Excuses, Excuses

While we were away at New River, enjoying some great time of family camping, I made a rather distasteful discovery. It happened on the first morning that we were there. Being the rugged-do-it-yourself-survivalist that I am, I decided to do what most rugged campers do when they are out in the wilderness:

I took the family to McDonalds.

That’s right. I do this from time to time, mostly because the kids enjoy it. As for myself, fast-food adventures such as these are a painful sacrifice that I make for their sake alone. But what was troubling about our Golden Arches adventure had nothing to do with the food that was served, instead, it had to do with the Tuesday morning edition of the Winston Salem Journal on my breakfast McTable. Of course it was 6/06/2006, so there was the obligatory 666-day article for those who lived in a superstitious dread of the occasion; but this turned out to be rather non-spectacular. Instead, what gripped me that morning was a cover story, bearing the following headline:

Road Rage May Be a Mental Illness, Study Suggests

When I read this, I was subconsciously looking for a smiley-face emoticon somewhere in the article - there to remind us all that this was all just a 666-day joke...or something...anything. Sadly, there was no smiley-face emoticon. Instead, there was the following article (offered in summary form):

"Road Rage May be a Mental Illness, Study Suggests" - "To you, that angry, horn-blasting tailgater is suffering from road rage. Doctors have another name for it - intermittent explosive disorder - and a new study suggests that it is far more common than generally realized, affecting as many as 16 million Americans." The findings were released this past Monday in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. Dr. Emil Coccaro, the chairman of psychiatry at the University of Chicago's medical school, who said: "People think it's bad behavior [road rage] and that you just need an attitude adjustment, but what they don't know…is that there's a biology and cognitive science to this…"

Intermittent Explosive Disorder? I nearly spewed my McDonalds coffee for reasons other than my sharp disdain for McDonalds coffee (which would be a first). As one who lived in Southern California since my youth, where road rage is a common occurrence, I couldn't believe my eyes. There in my hands was an article that revealed a very serious attempt to excuse criminal activity by means of more psychobabel. I can just see it now - a road-rage perp offering up the following defense for his actions: "Hey I'm sorry I riddled that car with bullets - I’ve been diagnosed with Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), and I forgot to take my medication that morning...whoa!" What Dr. Coccaro's calls "intermittent explosive disorder" is in fact called "total depravity" by the Bible, and the Lord's standards of justice will never bow and pay homage to the pharmacies and medications of men.

But I must say that the article, though disturbing, was actually a providential blessing. You see, I had been considering for some time how it is that we humans tend to excuse ourselves in our sin - establishing various reasons for why we violate God's commands, rather than taking personal responsibility for our actions. In the modern day men are not deemed sinful, instead their "disfunctions" are the product of their poor childhoods, circumstances in life or even their biology. According to the systems of thought today, God's final judgment of mankind will be accompanied by a host of professional psychologists and psychiatrists who will be there to testify on behalf of every member of the human race as to why it is that they are innocent of their actions by reason of their various victimizations. In the world of modern "wisdom," there is no hell because...

"all are victims and deserve the recovery of God" Psych. 3:23.

In mentioning all of this we must recognize that what Dr. Coccaro is advocating is rather extreme. But we cannot forget that all this hits closer to home than we may realize. Even as Christians, we have this same weakness of looking to justify our sins when we commit them. And how often do we meet Christians who have become infected with the errors of psychology - who will excuse their timidity, depression, anxiety and even anger based upon their circumstances, their childhood experiences. or some other thing or person. Especially in our culture of depression, it is not uncommon to hear Christians speak very protectively of their right to be depressed for various reasons; and yet how contrary this is to the simple teachings of Scripture. In particular, consider the remaining 7 summary commands issued by the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi:

1. [v.1] Stand firm in the Lord!!!
2. [v. 4] Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!!!
3. [v. 5] Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men!!!
4. [v. 6] Be anxious for nothing!!!
5. [v.7] Let your requests be made known to God!!!
6. [v.8] Let your mind dwell on that which is true, honorable, right, pure...!!!
7. [v. 9] These things practice!!!

Actually there are 8 imperatives (commands) in this section - the command to rejoice!!! is repeated twice in the same verse and so I normally count both as one command - with double emphasis. That's an interesting thought, isn't it? Being commanded to rejoice. All of the other commands might seem more normal to our thinking, but...being commanded to rejoice? Really?


Does this mean that believers will never struggle with feelings of anger, sadness and anxiety? Of course not! We all struggle with these, and even more; and will do so until glory, but thanks be to the Lord for His sufficient grace which causes us to stand (1 Peter 5:12) and to grow in all aspects of the Christian life, for He who began a good work in us will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6)! As believers, we have every reason to celebrate life in this world, even amidst our trials (Phil. 1:29), because we exist and subsist as the citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). Having been forgiven of all our wretched sins by the precious blood of the Lamb, and having been covered with His perfect righteousness (Phil. 3:2-19), we now have every reason to rejoice (Phil. 3:1), and rejoice (Phil. 4:4a) and again rejoice (Phil. 4:4b). But should we try to excuse ourselves from living in the joy of the Lord (John 17:13), then we become complicit with the foolishness of a man like Dr. Coccaro while we try to hide ourselves from the joy of a salvation that is worthy of our continual celebration.

Friday, June 16, 2006

POST 1920: Something Better To Do

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

An abreviated POST1920

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Rainbow Church, Part III

In the last two "Rainbow Church" posts [1, 2] I had mentioned the strange antics of Mr. Rollen Stewart (Rainbow Man), whose message of love is just about as twisted and confused as that of the modern church. Thus, Stewart's strangeness is a suitable metaphor for much of what takes place in the name of modern Christian ministry. At the heart of it all is a corrupted message of the love of God, such that the ideals of agape and philos love are often mutilated into the ancient concept of eros love - the love of self satisfaction and fulfillment. As mentioned in the previous post, this ancient concept of love was the love of selfishness which represented a philosophy of life that was considered to be the greatest ideal for human joy and satisfaction. Sadly, this ideal of self-centered love is still here with us in the modern era. In fact, we even see this clearly illustrated in many church advertisements today. If you comb through the yellow pages, you will eros.jpg find many churches that promise to fulfill the felt needs of those who attend. This is another way of saying - the form of love that we herald here is the secular concept of eros (self-seeking) love. I'm still waiting to find a seeker sensitive church with a yellow pages add that says: "A place to take up your cross and follow Christ, losing your life for His sake that you may gain true life in Him." I doubt that this would bode well for high numbers.

The truth is that the apostolic writers preached a very different message of love than that of the contemporary church. The sine qua non of life is not self-centered love, but God-centered love:

Mark 12:28-31: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, "What commandment is the foremost of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love [agapeseis] the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 "The second is this, 'You shall love [agapeseis] your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Despite the attempts of many to say that Mark 12:31 is commanding us to love ourselves, the clear meaning of Christ's instruction is that we, being naturally inclined to self-care and self-love, are to set aside our selfishness in order to love the Lord above all, and others around us. This presents a sharp contrast to eros love. Overall, Mark 12:28-31 calls us to a different priority than that of self-centered love. It calls us to the love of God first and the love of our neighbors agapephileo.jpg second. This priority of love comports entirely with the concept of biblical love - that is, God-centered love. The order of Mark 12:28-31 is crucial, for we cannot love others well if we do not love the Lord first above all. From all of this, we must remember the fundamental difference between the secular ideals of love versus the biblical one: In eros the worshiper is only focused upon his relationship with himself, as he seeks his own satisfaction, glory and joy; but in agape and philos love the worshiper is focused on a relationship with others - with the Lord first and others second:

1 Corinthians 16:22: 22 If anyone does not love [philei] the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.

John 15:13: 13 "Greater love [agapen] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends [philon]."

The distinction between agape and philos isn't entirely easy to grasp. Lexical works will vary a bit in their description of the two terms relative to one another, however I would summarize the difference as follows: philos tends to emphasize the thought of a tender affection for others. Having said this, we must note that agape encompasses this idea too, however, philos tends to focus on this idea in particular. At the broadest level, both words emphasize this: a love that is established by means of a relationship. The concept of a loving relationship is crucial, for it reminds us that our love for God is that which transcends mere feelings or self-centerdness. You see, people can experience many kinds of religious feelings when they think of God - but without a loving relationship with Him, such feelings are nothing more than a manifestation of their own self-centered affections. This right understanding of agape and philos love is a necessary guard against the error of impersonal religion. It is also a warning to us all that we may meet people who may be emotionally excited about the Lord, even professing the name of Christ, but this does not mean that they know and love the Savior:

Matthew 7:22-23: 22 "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'

When the Savior says that he never "knew" these people, who did many things in His name, the Lord was not indicating some lapse in His omniscience (may it never be); instead He was revealing the truth that there was never a relationship of love between these advocates of impersonal religion and the Lord Himself.

This message of love is crucial and I am afraid that it is all but lost in the American church. How sad it would be to find on the judgment day that many who attended the modern church, filled with all its programs and gimmicks that are designed to fulfill the felt needs of people, will find that all their joy, excitement, desire, and servitude was only a gross manifestation of their own self-love and self-infatuation. For our own lives, and for the sake of others, we need to understand the precious and wonderful message of the love of God:

1 John 4:19: 19 We love, because He first loved us.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

churchsunset.JPGWhy do we use the word "atonement" to speak of the sacrifice of Christ for His people? Is it appropriate to do so? Where does this word come from and what does it mean? These are good and profitable questions that deserve a moment of attention, especially in view of their centrality to the Savior's greatest work - His death on the cross. Clearly, this is an important matter, as affirmed by the prince of preachers:

"It is truly so, that Jesus seeks and saves that which is lost. He died and made a real atonement for real sinners. When men are not playing with words or calling themselves "miserable sinners," out of mere compliment, I feel overjoyed to meet with them. I would be glad to talk all night to bona fide sinners. The inn of mercy never closes its doors upon such, neither weekdays nor Sunday. Our Lord Jesus did not die for imaginary sins, but His heart's blood was spilt to wash out deep crimson stains, which nothing else can remove." Spurgeon, C. H. (1983; Published in electronis form by Christian Classics Foundation, 1996). All of grace : An earnest word with those who are seeking salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ. Index created by Christian Classics Foundation. (electronic ed.). Springdale PA: Whitaker House.

This important word "atonement" is one that is used to represent the Hebrew word kappar which is used 171 times in the O.T. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, this word in its root form, along with its variants, can mean atonement, reconciliation, ransom or a gift to secure favor. What is interesting to note is the manner in which this O.T. term is conceptually sustained in the N.T. Scriptures in several ways. Consider for a moment G. T. Shedd's very important thoughts on this matter, as he discusses the objective nature of the atonement:

Atonement as Objective: It follows from this discussion that atonement is objective in its essential nature. An atonement makes its primary impression upon the party to whom it is made, not upon the party by whom it is made. When a man does a wrong to a fellow man and renders satisfaction for the wrong, this satisfaction is intended to influence the object not the subject, to produce an effect upon the man who has suffered the wrong not the man who did the wrong. Subjective atonement is a contradiction. Atoning to oneself is like lifting oneself.  The objective nature of atonement is wrought into the very phraseology of Scripture, as the analysis of the biblical terms just made clearly shows. To "cover" sin is to cover it from the sight of God, not of the sinner. To "propitiate" is to propitiate God, not man. The Septuagint idea of "propitiation," rather than the Hebrew idea of "covering over," is prominent in the New Testament and consequently passed into the soteriology of the primitive church and from this into both the Romish and the Protestant soteriology. The difference between the two is not essential, since both terms are objective; but there is a difference. Hebrew kāppar denotes that the sacrificial victim produces an effect upon sin. It covers it up. But the corresponding Septuagint term hilaskomai denotes that the sacrificial victim produces an effect upon God. It propitiates his holy displeasure. When St. John (1 John 2:2; 4:10) asserts that "Jesus Christ the righteous is the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins" and that God "sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins," the implication is that the divine nature is capable of being conciliated by some propitiating act. This propitiating act under the old dispensation was, typically and provisionally, the offering of a lamb or goat as emblematic of the future offering of the Lamb of God; and under the new dispensation it is the actual offering of the body of Jesus Christ, who takes the sinner's place and performs for him the propitiating and reconciling act. The objective nature of atonement appears, again, in the New Testament term katallagē and the verb katallassein. These two words occur nine times in the New Testament with reference to Christ's atoning work (Rom. 5:10-11, 15; 2 Cor. 5:18-20). In the Authorized Version, katallagē is translated "atonement" in Rom. 5:11; but in the other instances "reconciliation" and "reconcile" are the terms employed. The verb katallassein primarily signifies "to pay the exchange or difference" and secondarily "to conciliate or appease." Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology. "First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)"--Jacket. (3rd ed. /) (Page 699). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

Shedd helps us to understand that the N.T. concepts of atonement are clearly carried over from the Hebrew word kappar, but with the understanding that Christ's atoning work is greater than that of the O.T. sacrificial system. While it may seem odd to some that the English word atonement is absent from modern translations of the N.T., this actually presents no real problem or conflict because the broad concepts of atonement are entirely preserved in both testaments, thus showing the continuity of a blood atonement. In fact, let me suggest that the word atonement is not only legitimate, but is needful for a few reasons:

  • The word atonement, when used of Christ's sacrifice, points to the absolute fulfilment of God's promises: King David's expressed hope for atonement for his transgressions (Psalm 65:3) would ultimately be fulfilled by the One who would "offer Himself as a guilt offering" to God for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53:10) - for the Lord will cause the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6). All of the O.T. references to blood atonement pointed to the greater promise concerning the suffering Servant Who would be crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5) in His substitutionary sacrifice for our sin. Consider Spurgeon's thoughts on this - "In none of the Jewish ceremonies were sins, even typically, removed without blood-shedding. In no case, by no means can sin be pardoned without atonement. It is clear, then, that there is no hope for me out of Christ; for there is no other blood-shedding which is worth a thought as an atonement for sin. Am I, then, believing in him? Is the blood of his atonement truly applied to my soul? All men are on a level as to their need of him. If we be never so moral, generous, amiable, or patriotic, the rule will not be altered to make an exception for us. Sin will yield to nothing less potent than the blood of him whom God hath set forth as a propitiation. What a blessing that there is the one way of pardon! Why should we seek another?" Spurgeon, C. H. (1995). Morning and evening : Daily readings (February 2 AM). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

  • The word atonement, when used of Christ's sacrifice, points to the reality of the New Covenant in His blood: The Old Covenant references to blood atonement were designed to point to a single blood atonement made by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Thus, Christ established the New Covenant in His blood as the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices. As we move from the O.T. to the N.T., we also move from the shadow of the O.T. passover to the substance of Christ: Luke 22:14-20: 14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."

  • The word atonement, when used of Christ's sacrifice, reminds us of the supremacy of the Savior's work over all: Hebrews 10:1-10: 1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 "Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.' " 8 After saying above, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." If there is one clear theme in the book of Hebrews, it is to show the supremacy of Jesus Christ in every way - to include His singular sacrifice on the cross which does not need to be repeated like the sacrifices of old. As Spurgeon has said: "No mean miracle was wrought in the rending of so strong and thick a veil; but it was not intended merely as a display of power-many lessons were herein taught us. The old law of ordinances was put away, and like a worn-out vesture, rent and laid aside. When Jesus died, the sacrifices were all finished, because all fulfilled in him, and therefore the place of their presentation was marked with an evident token of decay. That rent also revealed all the hidden things of the old dispensation: the mercy-seat could now be seen, and the glory of God gleamed forth above it. By the death of our Lord Jesus we have a clear revelation of God, for he was "not as Moses, who put a veil over his face." Life and immortality are now brought to light, and things which have been hidden since the foundation of the world are manifest in him. The annual ceremony of atonement was thus abolished. The atoning blood which was once every year sprinkled within the veil, was now offered once for all by the great High Priest, and therefore the place of the symbolical rite was broken up. No blood of bullocks or of lambs is needed now, for Jesus has entered within the veil with his own blood." [Spurgeon, C. H. (1995). Morning and evening : Daily readings (April 19 AM). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., underline mine]

For those who desire to research this more, I would recommend the following works to you:

A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Bible Topics, Chapter 25 - The Atonement: Its Nature, Necessity, Perfection, and Extent.

G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Section 6 [Christ's Mediatorial Offices & Atonement].

Stephen Charnock, Christ Crucified, A Puritan's View of Atonement.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Part III Chapter 9, Theories of the Atonement.*

Hodge, A., Hodge, C., & Hodge, A. (1996). The confession of faith : With questions for theological students and Bible classes [Chapter 8, Of Christ the Mediator].

*Hodge, Theories of the Atonement: Orthodox View: The first is that which has been for ages regarded as the orthodox doctrine; in its essential features common to the Latin, Lutheran, and Reformed churches. This is the doctrine which the writer has endeavoured to exhibit and vindicate in the preceding pages. According to this doctrine the work of Christ is a real satisfaction, of infinite inherent merit, to the vindicator justice of God; so that He saves his people by doing for them, and in their stead, what they were unable to do for themselves, satisfying the demands of the law in their behalf, and bearing its penalty in their stead; whereby they are reconciled to God, receive the Holy Ghost, and are made partakers of the life of Christ to their present sanctification and eternal salvation. This doctrine provides for both the great objects above mentioned. It shows how the curse of the law is removed by Christ's being made a curse for us; and how in virtue of this reconciliation with God we become, through the Spirit, partakers of the life of Christ. He is made unto us not only righteousness, but sanctification. We are cleansed by his blood from guilt, and renewed by his Spirit after the image of God. Having died in Him, we live in Him. Participation of his death secures participation of his life. Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology. Originally published 1872. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

New River: More Words By A Few Pictures

Camping is perhaps our favorite way to take a break as a family. It enables us to stop and glory in the 66090027.JPGLord via His beautiful creation. As well, it gives us time to do simple things together that we don't always have the time to do during the normal span of a week. So here is a brief post that will provide more words through the pictures themselves.

New River is perhaps one of the best campsites that we have ever enjoyed - and Sandra and I have done a lot of camping in California, Minnesota and now in North Carolina. The picture to the left is our campsite along 2006camp.jpgwith our 8 person Coleman tent. The tarp on top is for extra protection from any rain and it keeps the tent cool by the day (click on all pics to enlarge). All week the weather was perfect, and we do thank the Lord for it - warm, but with a cool breeze.

On Thursday some of the rangers, who are stationed 66090038.JPGin the area, organized a canoing/fishing trip for kids. I took Hannah, Maria and Micaiah and we all had a great time. The next 66090029.JPGday I picked up some live bait and an extra rod and we went to a spot that was only 100 yards from our campsite and did some more fishing. Hannah and Maria are now fishing enthusiasts. It was quite a sight, 66090037.JPGseeing my feminine girls hooking bloodworms to make their next catch. Hannah caught 3 fish total - one was a baby, but the other two were about 11-12 inches. Maria only caught one fish, but it was 12 inches or possibly better. I am working with Micaiah, teaching him how to cast - he enjoys it too, but awaits the day to reel one in.



Maria was a little spooked by her catch...


...especially when I lifted it towards her...

We brought the kid's bikes and even a tricycle for Lydia - she loved it:


My idea of camping isn't necessarily typical. In order to give my wife a break, we eat out quite a bit. One of our favorite stops in West Jefferson is the cheese factory where we get cider, crackers and lots of cheese:

In addition to frequenting the restaurants in town, we discovered something new this year: "Bohemia" - yes, a coffee shop - and oh, is it good! Please, don't ask me how many times we went there!


Taking a family of 7 camping requires quite a bit of gear, and so we take a little trailer to tow it all - bikes and all.


Lord willing, we'll be back. This time around we had the campsite almost entirely to ourselves, which providentially supplied some mandatory rest and great family time - we thank the Lord for it all!