Thursday, November 8, 2012

Training in the "new normal"

Now is the opportune time for training as a man or woman of prayer. The combination of recent events - choosing of leaders, chipping away at legislative and societal promotion of Biblical morality, and the chasm of debt due to enthronement of money as a god - yields golden opportunities for God's people. Now is the time for us to keep our bodies as the Holy Spirit's temple, to praise God for the workings of His hand, and ask for mercy as time rolls on.

Regarding our bodies, Oswald Chambers writes in today's selection of My Utmost for His Highest, "He [the Spirit] will look after the unconscious part [of our lives] that we know nothing of; but we must see that we guard the conscious part for which we are responsible" (p. 313). For, using our bodies as His temple, He prays through us (Romans 8:26)! How do we then keep pure? We trust that Christ's forgiveness is complete, which it is; we love the LORD our God by setting Him above our pride and fear, which He is; and we love all men as Christ loved (agape) us and as our neighbors, which they are. Make God's reality yours.

Regarding praise, I have found that to choose to praise God for all things not only follows what countless saints have done, but also transforms and renews my mind. Yes, many transpirations make no sense from a human's perspective. Yet think of this: the eternal God will reign and guard His saints no matter what, and He both sees and is weaving the inestimably gorgeous tapestry of time, of which we see only the tangle of threads on the back side. That is walking by faith.

Regarding supplication, God hears and answers those who enthrone Him. Isaiah writes (64:6-9): "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. Do not be furious, O LORD, nor remember iniquity forever; indeed, please look - we are all Your people!" Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pondering the rift

God speaks in Isaiah 54:7, "For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you." Also, Paul speaks of God thus in 2 Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself." And again, James writes (4:11a), "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren." These texts set the eternal perspective of God's faithfulness against the conception today that is just the opposite. I don't know all the reasons that people claim as grounds for divorce, but Scripturally they boil down to pride on the part of one or both parties, and subsequent contempt for covenant.

"I was unhappy because my spouse doesn't appreciate me for who I am." -- Granted, there are many ungrateful living beings. They're called humans. All of us have an entitlement complex, but ours is sufficient for us to deal with. Trying to make the other one grateful is a task best left to a greater power; what I can change is my own gratefulness. Change, the wise have said, begins in the one who perceives, and thankfulness engenders kindness.

"I'm better off alone." -- Granted, no other person can share certain feelings and experiences. But finance, family stabilization, and psychology attest that it is far better to stick closer than brothers (Proverbs 18:24). As God would have each of His children with Him throughout eternity, so also let us look at marriage as a practice run for heaven.

Thank God that the covenant oath does supersede our feelings - let it be as unimaginable for our love (actions) to fail as it is impossible for God's love of us to fail!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 13

Since this chapter discusses what The Gospel Coalition considers to be the key elements of the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), there are several key places where the material diverges from a Lutheran-Missouri Synod understanding. As such, I found reading it thought-provoking, so I went back to Luther's Large Catechism to examine more closely the Biblical rationale for why I believe what I believe.

Where TGC and the LC-MS agree:
  • Both Baptism and the Supper give grace to those who partake.
  • The Lord's Supper is only for believers, though most especially to strengthen weak faith.
  • Baptism is a seal that confirms God's ownership of us for our good.
  • The elements are "visible words" of God.
  • We should have a daily habit of "improving our Baptism" - that is, meditating on the gifts received and walking humbly that day and each day with our God.
  • The Lord's Supper attests to our unity as the body of Christ, so holding sin close to us as we come to eat and drink is not acceptable.
Where we digress:
  • TGC holds that there is no promise connected to the waters of Baptism, since water alone cannot convey spiritual life. This is qualified by the statement that "Baptism is God's means not to regenerate or justify us but to confirm his [sic] promise to us, put his [sic] mark on us, and assure us of his [sic] love, all of which serve to increase and strengthen the faith of the believer and thus promote our growth in grace" (p. 241).
  • TGC also holds that Christ is not bodily present in the Supper, since "not one of the . . .narratives focuses our attention" on this aspect (p. 250).
  • Lutherans hold that water baptism, because it is instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) and connected with God's efficacious name (Isaiah 55:10-11 and Psalm 54:1), does in fact give salvation.
  • Likewise, we also hold that Christ is truly ("real" i.e. bodily) present in the Lord's Supper, since He says, "This is My body. . .this is My blood" and, through Paul, that we participate in His body and blood as we eat and drink the elements.

Gospel as Center: chapter 12

This chapter describes the people of God, Christ's body, the Church.
  • God works through families - husband + wife + children. That is the way He ordained it, and nothing in Scripture espouses a different form. The Church is modeled after and built of copies of this unit, since it bears God's image (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • We as the Church manifest this image of God through unconditional love exhibited and shared, springing from and imitating how He has already loved the whole world unconditionally!
  • Why the family/body language? "To limit the fruit of Christ's work to the salvation of single hearts is to read the Bible through the individualistic lens of our day" (p. 217).
  • Another point for Lutherans especially to consider: "No [spiritual] gift should ever be played down; each represents a mammoth benefaction. . .[gifts] are given by the Holy Spirit in order to be given away, to be lavished on other members of the body for the growth of the body" (p. 219, note Ephesians 4:12).
  • What about outreach? We are to maintain the pure faith without compromise, deny ourselves, and give people not what they want but what they need - the law and the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. We ourselves must never take our eyes off of Christ and His cross.

Gospel as Center: chapter 11

On "The Kingdom of God."
  • What does "kingdom" mean here? It signifies God's authority over both sacred and secular (Luther's right- and left-hand kingdoms), a theme binding the Old and New Testaments together. It is manifested in creation, the Exodus, Israel's and Judah's kings, the prophets, and the person of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
  • How is our identity as Christians shaped by this concept? God's authority redeems us, makes us His own adopted children (with concomitant rights and responsibilities), and spurs us to praise Him through every aspect of our lives.
  • What about the right-left overlap? "The church does not have any juridical authority in the city/state public square, but that does not mean that the church ought to stay on the periphery. The church does have the responsibility to act in mercy and to engage our community with deeds of social justice (see James 1:27)" (pp. 204-5).
  • Loving our neighbor = noticeable in the world because it is the opposite of the natural man's tendency.

Gospel as Center: chapter 10

This chapter, I think, deals very well with its subject, the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is that the Spirit is "a gift of promise, of power, of presence" (p. 171).
  • The Spirit is a person, the parakletos (helper/counselor/advocate in Greek). Attributes may be found in Ephesians 4:30 and Romans 8:27, for starters. He is also God (Hebrews 9:14, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), proceeding and distinct from the Father and the Son (e.g. 1 Peter 1:2).
  • His work (John 16:7-11) is to convict, convert, apply God's gifts to us, glorify Christ (Word <--> Spirit), sanctify us by the Word's light, equip us with all things needed for life and godliness (if the gift of prophecy is in a person, s/he must weigh each message against Scripture), and promise by sealing us for the resurrection.
  • An amazing thought: "Baptism in the Spirit is something every Christian has experienced because every Christian has been born again and joined to Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit" (pp. 179-80, emphasis mine).
  • Another: "We become what we behold" (p. 184).
  • One closing thought, especially for those with me in the LC-MS to consider: "But just because the work is objective doesn't mean we can't have a subjective experience of it. We ought to pray for an experience of God's love poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)" (p. 187, emphasis in original).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 9

Justification - what's it all about?
  • What is justification? It's not being made righteous per se, but rather being declared righteous. This is God's legal decision, so it is binding. Also, He does not merely remove the unrighteousness, but He replaces it with a full dose of Jesus Christ's perfect righteousness in each person who receives Him.
  • Why do we need justification? We have broken every single commandment of God, and breaking of but one destroys any perfection we could hope to have.
  • Why is justification the "chief article" of our faith? "There is no hope of salvation without it" (p. 154).
  • Where does it come from? God and His grace - He possesses and originates righteousness. Romans 3 tells us that "God still perserves His righteousness" since He is unlimited (p. 157).
  • Why can we be justified? Jesus lived and died perfectly and applies that perfection to us. "There is no justification without crucifixion" (p. 159). The righteousness is imputed to us - credited to our account; it is both active (fulfilling the law) and passive (dying to pay sin's wages)
  • How are we justified? By faith in Christ, the empty hand that receives His gifts without expectation. Trying works-righteousness is throwing filthy rags in His face.
  • What is the goal of justification? Works that now glorify God because of the motive and ability behind them! And this justification can never depart from us, for God stuck it there.

Gospel as Center: chapter 8

On "Christ's redemption" - definitely of central interest!
  • What sets Christ-centered preaching apart from Jewish, Muslim, or even "cafeteria-Christian" preaching? It is Christ crucified.
  • What is it about Christ crucified? That He loves us purely "because of who He is" (p. 136). It's incomprehensible, yet too good to not be true.
  • We can view Christ's life in terms of His humiliation (God becoming man while remaining fully God, obeying the whole Law for our sake, and suffering and dying the basest of deaths of His own planning) and exaltation (descent into hell to proclaim victory, followed by His resurrection, ascension, and present reigning at God's right hand).
  • All that needs to be demonstrated forensically is that "Jesus had been dead. He was now alive!" (p. 140)
  • All He did, He did in our place - life, obedience (active and passive), death, resurrection, and ascension. Thus our record of sins is erased and replaced with His righteousness. This is, in C. S. Lewis's words, the "Great Exchange."
  • The rock that offends so many is that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life. All else is dust.
    • If we do not understand this, we do not understand any of the gospel.
    • If salvation could come by another way, God is wholly unjust.
    • The option of human morality earning heaven contradicts everything in the Scriptures (e.g. John 14:6 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6).
    • Why would the old Adam in any of us want to go to heaven? The preoccupation there is praise and glorification of Jesus Christ, which is anathema to all who do not receive Him by faith.
  • To make Christ our all, we imitate Him - emptying ourselves, and boast not in ourselves but in what He has done.
  • Christ as the center = we worship Him, believe His words, obey His commands, treat God as our Father, further His kingdom, bear our cross, remain in the Church He has instituted, love others, glory in His cross, and rejoice in the promised resurrection!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 7

The question: "What is the Gospel?"

Short answer: 1 Timothy 1:15. Sinners miss God's holy standard, hurting our relationship with Him. BUT that's where Jesus comes in. Of note: "Sin has power in your life because you love it" (p. 130).
  1. God provides what He requires:
    1. His image (in Christ)
    2. His holiness (of Christ - showing how and enabling to rightly live)
    3. His justice (a perfect sacrifice)
    4. Christ's righteousness (the "great exchange")
    5. God's love (unconditional)
    6. Covenant faithfulness (deliverance before obedience; Ephesians 2:8-9)
    7. Faith in Christ (simply trust His power by admitting your lack thereof)
    8. Rest in Christ - "simply relying on Christ's work" (p. 120).
  2. God perfects what He provides:
    1. Union with Christ (His death and resurrection)
    2. Family bonds (always His child)
    3. Eternal protection (Romans 8:28)
    4. Personal power - "the Holy Spirit translates our prayers into perfect petitions for God's will to be done" (p. 128); 1 Corinthians 1:27
    5. Spiritual growth (SIMPLE FAITH - by testing and transformation)
    6. Spiritual security (birthed of yielding to Him; see 1 John 4:19 and Romans 12:1-3)
    7. Eternal inheritance (new heaven and earth)
  3. God uses what He perfects: Our purpose is
    1. Individual - Christ's heart is our heart (Romans 6:4-11)
    2. Corporate - proclaiming the Gospel as the church
    3. Redemptive - He transforms all areas of our lives!

Gospel as Center: chapter 6

Simply titled "The Plan."
  • Revelation 13:8 and Titus 1:2-3 - This was no surprise, but ordained from the beginning! God brings His own plans to pass without contingencies.
  • Old Testament promises:
    • Humans are created unique.
    • The curse was shunted from us to the ground.
    • God took the initiative to elect Abraham.
    • Redemption and reconciliation are in the Passover sacrifice.
    • David would have an eternal (!) kingdom.
    • Resisting God's call means to expect discipline from Him.
    • Resurrection and restoration (Ezekiel 37:1-13)!
  • New Testament promises:
    • God (Christ) became man too (Jesus).
    • When tempted, Christ triumphed, giving us strength.
    • John 1:11-12 - He was and is rejected. . .but He blesses those who receive Him!
    • God calls us to heed the transfigured Christ by faith.
    • In the Crucifixion, our punishment was shunted onto Jesus Christ.
    • Christ's bodily resurrection guarantees ours, for which we wait with repentance (complete) and forgiveness (total).
    • He blessed while ascending and continues to bless today.
  • Acts (church spreading the promise) and the Epistles (the Spirit giving the promise's fruits):
    • Faith and repentance are to occur together, just as justification and sanctification cannot be confused nor separated.
    • Other gifts: regeneration, union with Christ (reality!), adoption by the Father, glorification (life as a mirror of God's glory), and consummation (seeing God's face).

Gospel as Center: Chapter 5

On "Sin and the Fall."
  • The Theory of Evolution (note capitals) and Islam both assume that evil is a natural thing, with the implication that sin need not be dealt with.
  • But Christianity contends that angels first sinned (2 Peter 2:4), progressing to Satan tempting Eve, then Adam, then sin being inherited by all his offspring.
  • We were created righteous; strangely, God proclaimed evil's entry (no surprise nor mere permission) "so that in it and against it He might bring to light His divine attributes" (Bavnick, Reformed Dogmatics, qtd. in p. 81; compare Colossians 2:15).
  • Adam's sin led to lawlessness and judgment, alienation, inability to be holy, and Satanic bondage. It is universal, and its depravity involves the whole person (T of TULIP).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 4

On the foundational topic of Creation.
  • The whole creation is purposed to show off God's glory, and humans to know God's glory through the evidences. "The earth is the center of God's purposes for the universe" (p. 68).
  • Because we have sinned, however, we cannot innately know His glory, so "physical creation prepares us for saving faith" (p. 57, cf Psalm 22:9).
  • The making and sustaining of all creation is in Christ! (Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2)
  • Naturalism/materialism both deny the purpose ordained by God (Romans 1:18).
  • Beware of a "God of the gaps" - science shrinks this sort of god.
  • Genesis 1:1-3 is foundational for everything in the Bible.
  • Genesis 2 is an "inset map" of chapter 1.
  • Genesis 1:26-27 - humans are made in God's image (i.e. having some of His traits and abilities, being stewards of creation). The one-man-one-woman marriage pattern produces child-blessings.
  • Applications of creation:
    • Reasons to worship God!
    • Reminder of the marvelous fact of our moment-by-moment sustenance
    • Evidence that God, the 100% Creator, also 100% saves us (2 Corinthians 4:6)
    • Parents teach their children and others about God via what He made
    • Students of science are to be worshipers of the Maker first and foremost
    • Use creation to help comprehend the Bible ("consider the lilies. . .")
    • Be refreshed in soul (nature walks)
    • Live anticipating creation's renewal

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 3

The title of this chapter is "The Gospel and Scripture" (i.e. how to read the Bible in light of the centrality of the Gospel).

  • The Gospel causes revelation, and revelation causes the Gospel.
    • The Gospel is God's planned purpose (intent) of redemption.
    • Preaching the Bible performs this purpose (Romans 10:12-14).
  • Convictions of our basis for reading:
    • God-breathed - freedom from doubt and instability
    • Understandable - we labor to study it because He reveals it to us.
    • Useful - it works inasmuch as we believe and obey it.
    • Effective - accomplishes every part of life and godliness.
  • We are the ones judged by the Bible - no wiggling out from under this fact!
  • Principles of interpretation:
    • Christ is the subject of all Scripture (therefore Scripture interprets Scripture)
    • The Holy Spirit guides us into understanding it (e.g. the road to Emmaus)
  • Ways to read, shaking the tree of life for fruit*:
    • "Along" - as historical narrative, the gospel storyline
    • "Across" - as theology, Scripture interpreting Scripture.
* The quote I am referencing, from Martin Luther: "First I shake the whole Apple tree, that the ripest might fall. Then I climb the tree and shake each limb, and then each branch and then each twig, and then I look under each leaf."

Gospel as Center: Chapter 2

Title: "Can We Know the Truth?" - an appropriate question in our age!

  • Our stating truth as Christians must be backed up by defending the idea of truth itself.
  • Postmodernity rightly rejects the philosophy of modernity - its rationalism attacks God, ignores sin, and has no room for humility and charity.
  • Positives of postmodernism: (1) People are finite and therefore cannot fully understand truth. (2) Truth can potentially engender oppression, something to guard against. (3) We are led to think again through doctrines, strengthening the right. (4) Christians and postmodernists can combat modernism.
  • However. . .you can't live as if there is no truth! Try it, it's impossible.
  • Our Christian defense of truth:
    • "Truth corresponds to reality" (p. 29).
      • God exists, specifically the God of the Bible.
      • One God implies a unity to His whole creation.
    • "Sin prevents humans from receiving the truth" (p. 30).
      • We are necessarily finite anyway.
      • We are sinful.
    • Jesus the Savior is the solution to sin!
    • "The Bible - God's written revelation - conveys truth" (p. 32).
      • Scripture is verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit.
      • God's perfection implies that Scripture is also trustworthy and without error.
      • The Bible's authority is God's authority, since it proceeds from His mouth.
      • God reveals Himself in a variety of genres. So. . .
      • To read the Bible is to drink living water (2 Peter 1:19).
    • Truth is in God's covenant with us as well.
      • God is the higher party in His covenant.
      • Humans are His stewards.
      • Jesus, God in the flesh, is touchable human Truth.
  • Thus, in our witness, we start and end with Scripture, always humbly (as forgiven sinners) and boldly (knowing the teachings). Back up your witness with life-evidence that Jesus is a real Person to you - love, holiness, gentleness. Jesus is your confidence!
  • People have an innate need for truth - go from there, challenging them to evaluate the Word's claims.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Gospel as Center: Chapter 1

The Gospel as Center, edited by D. A. Carson and T. Keller ((c) 2012 Crossway), expounds on the essence of the Gospel and how it applies to every aspect of ministry, worship, and daily life. Chapter 1 summarizes "Gospel-Centered Ministry."

  • Biblical language is the first choice of the book to describe theology, as well it should be.
  • Begin with God versus with our culture's interpretation of Scripture.
  • Individualism (based on secularism) makes us too fluid, commitment-phobic.
  • How to address today's incomprehension of typical expository preaching? No matter what, tie all things to Christ's person and work, since He is the center of  our faith as Christ-followers.
  • Social ministry is certainly appropriate, based on our received grace.
  • Minding the cultural context, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) seeks to support churches (1) preaching for discipleship, (2) emphasizing repentance and its fruits, (3) involving members in the world (for all areas of daily life are within the realm of Jesus Christ), and (4) supporting Christian communities marked by generosity.
  • Churches to the Word-ministry are to be compared/contrasted with believers to the world-ministry.
  • Systematic (atemporal concepts) versus biblical (historical/thematic) theology.
  • The Gospel flows into ALL our life and thought! We live with the ethics and morals we have because they imitate Jesus' work.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The star of Bethlehem

Information summarized below comes courtesy the DVD, played in today's Bible study, by Rick Larson.

Important people for understanding the star of Bethlehem:
  • Kepler - laws of planetary motion let us calculate reliably what the sky was like on any given date in history
  • Newton - refined Kepler's laws to account for planetary "perturbations"
  • Josephus - when correctly interpreted, gives the date of Herod's death
Background texts:
  • Job 36:31-32 - God controls the skies
  • Isaiah 40:26 - God names each star! Each is always where it belongs!
  • Psalm 19:1-4 (v. 4 quoted by Paul) - God told of Jesus through the stars; the Bethlehem Star is historical. Stars are "thermometers" (i.e. truthful but otherwise inactive agents)
Characteristics of the star, per Matthew:
  • Rose from the east
  • Appeared at an exact time (September of 3 B. C.)
  • Went ahead of the magi (moved due south en route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem)
  • Endured over time (from Christ's conception onward)
  • Stopped over where Jesus was (December 25, 2 B. C.! - after His birth)
  • Herod had to ask about it (phenomenon not striking to all observers)
  • Signified birth (Revelation 12:1-3 - Virgo, with the sun and moon, rose behind Regulus)
  • Signified Judah/Israel (Jupiter drew a "halo" within the Leo constellation)
  • Signified kingship (Jupiter, the king planet, circled Regulus, the king star)
In Larson's terms, the celestial "poem" spanned Jesus Christ's earthly life:
  • Joel (quoted in Acts) - "blood moon" is the ancient terminology for a lunar eclipse
  • The Friday (Day of Preparation for the Passover) coincided with the 14th day of Nisan the year Jesus was crucified
  • Pilate and Herod were ruling, confirming the year A. D. 33
  • Darkness 12-3pm, earthquakes, and other signs accompanied a full moon, again at the "feet" of Virgo (see again Revelation 12:1-3)
Curious? Investigate the site!

Soli Deo gloria.