Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Image of God

Our men's group is going through Multiply in Bible Study. It's a fantastic study and I would highly recommend it as a way to encourage discipleship growth in your church. We recently worked through the chapter on Creation [study guide pdf] and wrestled through what it means to be made in God's image.

Consider Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'"

On page 144, the Multiply book states:
There is something absolutely unique about humanity. On the one hand, we are utterly unlike God because, just like everything else in creation, He made us. But on the other hand, God specifically created us to be like Him. This is impossible to wrap our minds around, but God created us like Him in some respect and then set us in the midst of this world to represent Him!  There is a lot of debate about what exactly the “image of God” is. Everyone seems to agree that being created in God’s image is more than a physical resemblance—He is Spirit, after all (John 4:24). Suggestions as to what God’s image in humanity consists of are varied: our ability to reason, our ability to make moral decisions, our personalities, and our capacity for relationships are all leading views. Others suggest that the image of God relates to the dominion over the rest of creation that God gave to man (this ties Gen. 1:26–27 to Gen. 1:28). Perhaps it is best not to attach the image of God to any one faculty or attribute of humanity. In the New Testament, we are told  that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus is said to be “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). It seems that being the “image of God” is about reflecting God in some way. Jesus did this perfectly, but humanity has also been given a responsibility to show God to the world—His handiwork, nature, and attributes are displayed in us in a way that they are not displayed in the rest of the creation. (Of course, this image has been tainted by sin, but that comes later in the story.)
I would agree that it's impossible to precisely determine what being made in God's image means, but I also think it's possible to look at Scripture and understand it at a deeper level than mere speculation.

Look at how Genesis 1:24 describes the creation of the animal kingdom: "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds--livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.' And it was so." These creatures were created like everything else, by God's word, and they were 'brought forth' from the earth. Beast and bug alike are made of earthly material--entirely terrestrial--nothing more and nothing less.

Genesis 2:7 gives a more detailed account of the creation of man: "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Adam's creation is far more intimate. Yes, he too is made of the stuff of earth like the animals, but life is given him by the breath or the spirit of God. This is the foundational distinctive from which all the attributes of being made in the image of God come. Paired with our physical being is a soul from God that lives beyond the chaotic physics of this world.

From there, attributes of being made in God's image may be discerned. No one truth needs to be the definitive qualification for imaging God. Rather, it's all of these qualities (many of them listed in Multiply) that follow from the endowment of life by the Spirit of God.
  • We have a spirit that will endure through eternity
  • We can be in relationship with God
  • We share in God's communicable attributes
  • We are creative like our Maker
  • We are not bound by instinct--our reasoning and actions are based in morals
  • We [ought to] have dominion over this creation

Surely this list is not exhaustive. The point is to see that in many ways we're like the God who made us. We're corrupted, flawed versions of what that should be, but our hope is that one day we'll be perfected and represent the image of God purely as we dwell with him forever in his new creation. Thanks be to Jesus Christ, the image, the radiance and glory of God, who by his atoning sacrifice on the cross opened the way for us to be restored to this glorified image that Christ holds.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:16-18).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two Kinds of Love

Raising children both adopted and born to us gives our family plenty of opportunities to answer various adoption related questions. One common question relates to the nature or quality of our love toward our children: do we [or can we] love all of our children the same?

The surprising answer is no! However, what 'no' means may not be as offensive as it first sounds.

Just as marriage ought to help us better understand the deep theology of Christ's love and devotion to his bride, the Church, human adoption should grow our understanding of the Doctrine of Adoption. See Galatians 4:1-7, Romans 8:18-25, and Ephesians 1:3-14 if this doctrine is foreign to you.

Imagine God's love toward Adam and Eve after he created them. Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38), and God showed him paternal love in the garden. Besides providing for Adam's needs, God also set the balance in freedom, responsibility and boundaries. Most importantly, God walked with Adam. The picture is one of tender care as the father sets life's tenor for his child. Parenting children born to a husband and wife feels this natural, and love pours out to the one made in your image.

However, this relationship didn't remain. Adam and Eve fell and lost their status as children of God. The point of showing this isn't to use that as part of any analogy, but rather to get to redemption. Because the fall happened and because God wanted to demonstrate his love (Rom 5:8), he sent his only begotten Son. The beauty of God's plan is that we can be restored--"But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12).

What kind of love is this? It's the blood-soaked, tear-stained, brutally painful love of adoption. And because the cost was so high to God--the precious life of his Son--you can infer the value that God places on this relationship. "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" [Romans 8:38-39]. It is not easy love, but it is real love.

As a parent, there is no quantitative difference in my love for my children. I would trade my life for any of theirs in a heartbeat. There is a large qualitative difference in the love, however. The fear inherent in the question over whether my wife and I can love all our children the same is that we (or any adoptive parent) may love the children born to us more. But there is a reality here that the children born into the family may never understand: the sweat, blood and tears involved in adoption gives our adopted children a special status. We've all had to fight for love, and that ground is not easily surrendered.

Adoption helps me appreciate God's love in Christ for me. I hope all of my children grow to understand this in some way as they see adoption played out in the home or if they choose to adopt some day. Most of all, I hope they understand this love because they have it through their Savior, Jesus Christ. And I pray that they understand it--not simply intellectually--but in their souls as they cling to their Abba Father in faith.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Beware Antinomians

Antinomians, Paul has his sights set on you:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? [Rom 6:16]

You misunderstand your freedom. Grace is not license to do as you please [Rom 6:15]. If that is your perspective, you don't really understand grace. Your faith is not in the Savior; your faith is still in you. That is the heart of the rebellion of mankind, and the person who puts away God's law (making a new one unto himself) is still vying for God's throne.

However, the solution to antinomianism is not to destroy justification by faith alone. A misunderstanding of Sola Fide and Sola Gratia by a few does not invalidate its truth. God saves by grace through faith [Eph 2:8] and calls us to walk in newness of life [Rom 6:4]--not in oldness of the flesh, as we had always stumbled along.

I don't think I've ever met a pure antinomian. I'm sure they exist, but the pure doctrine is a rare elixir. Yet, is that struggle not within each of our hearts? A watered down version of this poison still courses through the veins of the flesh. Don't we occasionally think that "this one sin" is okay because God will forgive? Isn't it easy to presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience. God extends that grace to us for an opportunity to repent [Rom 2:4].

The good news is that God does forgive this sin, and in our repentance we will bear good fruit.

Jesus said, "For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit" [Luke 6:43-44].

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Are People Without Christ Really Lost?

It used to be that skeptics toward Christianity would ask this question, but increasingly I hear Christians asking this same question. The motivations of the two groups are different. Honestly, every person asking the question does so for his own reasons, but the typical reason a skeptic would ask it was combative--he wants to justify his unbelief; he doesn't want to believe in a God who didn't create the world the way he would fashion it. That really is the root of the issue, that each person has rebelled against his Creator and wants to be the god of his world. However, this isn't directly about that issue.

It appears that now members of the household of faith are asking this same question. In one sense it confuses me because the Bible make the way of salvation so clear. Any Christian ought to be ready and able to answer the question of the Philippian Jailer [Acts 16:30], "What must I do to be saved?" Paul and Silas answer this in the next verse [Acts 16:31], "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." So the means of salvation is crystal clear, and that's why this question confuses me as it comes from a Christian.

On the other hand, I think I understand where it's coming from. There are billions of people in this world who are born, live out their whole lives and then die without ever even hearing the name of Jesus. There is a sense of empathy in the question, "Are people without Christ really lost?" The questioner looks for a glimmer of hope within the reality observed on this planet. I believe it also relates to the way Christians apply the character of God today. They know that God is merciful [Psalm 103:8]; after all, God has shown them great mercy. And so the real question is, "How can God show love, mercy, grace and peace to a people who can never hear of Jesus if Jesus is the only way of salvation?"

Ephesians 2 helps with the biblical perspective on this issue. However, instead of toning down the nature of God's judgment (is that not the answer the question seeks?), it really sharpens the contrast between God and man, and between those who are lost and those who are found. After the fall, all humanity was alienated from God. Then he called a people to himself through Abraham. At that point in history, Gentiles [non-Jews] had very little hope. Paul admits this in Eph 2:12. But by God's grace, the blood of Jesus draws Jews and Gentiles into the family of God [Eph 2:13, Eph 2:4-8]. In other words, humanity has always been in this predicament. The way of the world today still rhymes with history. The problem in mankind hasn't gone away. The person who never hears of Jesus is still hostile toward God. Because each person has forsaken God, without his intervening action, none of us has hope. And yet, there is real hope in the blood of Christ, offered for the whole world [John 3:16, Eph 2:19].

In the end I think the question posed, "are they really lost?" is still the wrong question. God has indeed provided a means for all of the people of the world to hear of Jesus. He has given the world the Church--you , if you are Christ's, and me--sent with the command to go and make disciples [Matt 28:18ff]. We must be goers and senders. It's the way of showing Christ's love to this world.

There is a deeper problem yet. I believe there is still a self-justification angle coming from the Christian who asks this question (perhaps we're not unlike the unbelieving skeptic). The problem is that we know the Great Commission, yet stay in our comfortable middle-class Christian lifestyles while wringing our hands about those who might not hear about Jesus. Let's be honest together (I confess I struggle here too)--isn't the truest question a combination of the following:

  • Do I really have to obey Jesus when he calls us to make disciples of all nations?
  • Must I forsake my comfortable lifestyle to reach the lost?
  • Can't God use something or someone else to bring people the gospel?
The fundamental reason that person has not heard the gospel is because we're unwilling to take up our cross and bring them good news. And then we want to blame God for being unfair. We want God to save them without inconveniencing ourselves. But he has made us the vehicle to spread his gospel. Eternity is at stake; we must be obedient.

It would be worth the investment of your time to watch the following videos or listen to the audio.

If you do, let's talk and see how God might be working in our lives to shine the light of God's glory and grace to the world.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Three Categories of Ministry

J.D. Greear spoke in a workshop at the 2013 Gospel Coalition Conference about creating a sending culture in the church. He has a great message to share, and even though I don't agree with every last thing he says, I truly appreciate the heart behind the message.

Starting near the beginning of minute 35, he makes a great observation about the ways a church can interact with various ministries. Here is my attempt at a transcription, with apologies to legitimate mustard wielding hot dog donors:
We have to empower our people to be leaders. We've got to empower people as leaders. As church leaders, we've got to take a servant role toward our people. Listen to this, if John 14:12 is true, we understand that the best ministry ideas are in the congregation. Do you believe that? The best ministry ideas are in the congregation, not in the offices of the church. And we have to dedicate our ourselves to serving our people--developing them. Most of us as church leaders are more naturally inclined to recruit volunteers for our ideas. But there's a big difference in recruiting volunteers and training leaders. We want volunteers to be cogs in our machine. But rather than just thinking of how to get them on to our teams, we need to think about  how we become a part of theirs. To serve them, for these 39 out of 40 miracles [that were recorded in Acts as happening outside the church].
We've developed as a church staff--let me tell you how we put this into practice--we developed three categories of ministry. We call it own, catalyze, and bless. 'Own' are ministries that we think up in the church office. We're responsible for them. We fund them. We recruit for them. That's one category. On the other end of the spectrum is 'bless'. That's the person that comes up to you after the service that's like, "Hey, I've got a great idea. I want to give out hot dogs at the fair and I want to write in mustard 'John 3:16' on them." And you're like, "That sounds great. Let's have a word of prayer. Come back to me and tell me how that worked out." Alright, so that's on the other end--'bless'. In the middle is this category that I don't think we're really that good at, that we've got to get good at--'catalyze'. And the reason we're not good at it is 'cause it's scary. It's where I don't want to 'own' it--I'm not going to take it from you--you're still the leader in it, but I'm going to bring the resources and the authority of the church and all that stuff behind you to let you lead it. I never want to lead; I want you to lead it. And we're going to catalyze your ministry by doing some things that we can do infrastructure-and-funding-wise, but we're not taking it away from you.
So here's the question for you to consider. How much is that happening in your church?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Philippians 2:1-11, Exalted Suffering

I had the opportunity to preach recently*, and given the scope of Philippians 2:1-11, I felt compelled to mention that I could not touch on every aspect of interest in this passage. That's still true in the context of this blog, but there were a couple of themes too fascinating to pass up. This post will focus on one of those themes--the connection between Phil 2:1-11 and the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53

Philippians 2 shows us the mind of Christ (v7-8), "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Here is our salvation! The passage doesn't speak directly to our justification, but the full scope of gospel accomplishment, from beginning to end, is with Christ. He assumed humanity and absorbed our death.  The Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 reflects the glory of the atonement even if it's not explicit.

By taking the form of a servant, Christ has borne the likeness of Isaiah's Suffering Servant (Isa 53:11). Compare Philippians 2:7-8 with the first six verses of Isaiah 53:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Even though the Christ Hymn doesn't explain the formula of salvation by grace through faith, the truth is there in two forms.

1. Philippians 2:6-11 was an early church hymn. It was a confession of church--that Jesus Christ truly was the Son of God who died on the cross. Sola Fide is implicit in the song because those singing it have put their trust in Christ. [1 Cor 12:3, Rom 10:9]

2. The connection to the Suffering Servant imports all of that context into the Christ Hymn. Each of us deserves God's punishment, for it's our sin that alienated us from God. But Isaiah 53 teaches us that the Man of Sorrows shouldered the weight of God's crushing justice for us. We can have peace with God because his wrath was diverted away from us, the straying sheep, and poured out on his Son instead.

As precious as personal salvation is, the real point of the Christ Hymn is to exalt Christ. It's all about Jesus Christ, and his exhibition of the most godly nature--genuine humility--is why he was exalted to the highest place. Paul explains that it was Jesus' willingness to descend to servanthood and death that highlights his coronation:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11).
God the father took what was low and made it high, brought the dead to life, and entirely turned the world on its head. There is now no higher name than Jesus of Nazareth, the great I AM.

It is here that the connection with Isaiah 53 is cemented. For in that chapter, just as in Philippians 2, the Suffering Servant does not see affliction only. The shame of God's curse is not a dead end. Just as Jesus is raised up in his hymn, God speaks of blessing to his Servant in Isaiah.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Despite a bleak outlook, God's Servant sees his offspring and prolongs his days. Pouring out his soul to death cannot be the end, for this man "divides his spoil with the strong" and "the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."

For all Christ has done, its end is to the praise of God's glorious grace (Phil 2:11, Eph 1:6). Christ is glorious, and God the Father is glorious! O may our souls be stirred to sing doxology--here are some suggestions: Behold Our GodJesus Messiah, Majesty (Here I Am), How Great Is Our God

*These resources are linked here if you desire fuller context; the intention is not self-promotion. [mp3manuscript]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vision: Proverbs 29:18

The entrepreneurial mindset is working its way into the American church. Actually, I take that back. As a young person, I believe I've missed the boat: the entrepreneurial mindset has already worked itself into church culture, starting with the Church Growth Movement in the 1970s. Over 40 years later, those methods are the foundation, refined by many years of experience, and now the normal perspective is to optimize the business case for the local ministry. There is no need to ponder church growth theory; we have fully matured into the Age of the Megachurch. It has taken vision and mission, pairing the wisdom of the free market with the shelter of the church, and these behemoths have become everything they ever dreamed.

All too often I've heard Proverbs 29:18 used as the basis for the church growth platform if not the justification for all manner of missional pursuits. Conversely, it has been used to condemn the faithful local church as having an unbiblical foundation, or at least an unwise one, if they are not emulating the larger ministries:
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18, ESV)
The initial reaction to this verse is that a church must have a charismatic leader or board who can cast a vision for where they will take the church, otherwise the church will flounder as all manner of people 'cast off restraint'. This is especially true with older translations of Proverbs that did not include the adjective 'prophetic' next to 'vision'. I'm thankful that the ESV translation committee was thoughtful in its wording, though based on how I hear this verse still used today (as recently as one week ago), I'm still not sure people read closely enough.

While there may be some wisdom in drawing the parallel to organizational direction, Proverbs 29:18 has nothing to do with vision as we envision it today. There really is no relation to strategic planning or managerial competence. The verse entirely refers to the application of the Scriptures to the lives the people. The vision referred to in the first half of the verse is set against the law in the second half of the verse. In other words, where God's Word is lacking, anarchy ensues.

To see application of this Proverb, read Lamentations 2:9-14. Because Israel chose to follow the visions of the false prophets--casting off restraint of their Torah--God sent Babylon as his instrument of discipline. This Lamentation is the woe of a city as it reaps the consequence of disobeying God and his Law for so long.

Church leaders must be careful how they explain and apply God's Word. There is a danger of promoting a deceptive vision when using a verse to support a personal agenda, even if that agenda has 40 years of wind at its back. It was not overnight that Israel drifted from the false prophets speaking their soothing, damnable lies to their exile, yet the grand drama began with the smallest whispers of misdirection.

Remain faithful to the prophetic vision of the Word. Do not cast off the restraints of proper exegesis. The devastation in the church may be great. Though outward appearances may suggest success, the day will come when each local body will reap what it has sown: spiritual anarchy or blessing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Reaping Bountifully: 2 Corinthians 9:6

A question came up recently about whether or not God promises to bless those who are generous. The answer is a resounding "Yes!", but it may not be in the way expected by the contemporary American church.

I believe the New Covenant perspective is that God promises to provide all of our basic needs on earth while we store up and reap spiritual riches in heaven. I don’t see a direct promise in the Bible that God will bless you with greater material goods if you give more. I’m also not saying he won’t do that, for God is sovereign and equips us each according to his will (Job 1:21), and I believe he often chooses to give wealth to people who will bless others. But no such quid pro quo is promised in Scripture as far as I’m able to discern.

Regarding the first concept that God provides for his children’s needs, you see it when Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:19ff). In Matt 6:33, The “these things” that are added to you are daily needs: food, water, clothing. [See how this happens.]

I do not think there is an automatic correlation between personal generosity and material prosperity. If you look at a few cases, you can see where the giving and blessing correlation breaks down. For instance, Paul, who wrote the book on generosity, was sometimes well off and sometimes poor (Phil 4:12). I doubt his heart to be generous ever changed. The church in Smyrna in Revelation (2:8-11) was poor though it was one of only two churches in Revelation who were not rebuked by Jesus. And finally, the most generous giver recorded in the Bible (excepting God) was the widow in Mark 12:41-44. She gave everything she had and was dirt poor. She was far more faithful than the rich who gave out of their abundance.

That church in Smyrna seems to be the key to understanding what the Bible says about this concept. Even though Smyrna was poor, Jesus called them rich (Rev 2:9)! God has a different bank account. You can see it in Matthew 6:20, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” When we are generous, we’re depositing into our heavenly account, and it’s there we will be richly blessed.

This helps us understand the paragraphs of 2 Corinthians 9:6ff, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” On the face of it, it seems that Paul is saying that the more you give, the more you’ll receive—and it’s true. But he did not say what you’ll receive in that verse. I believe the treasures you reap are mentioned in verses 8-10: abounding grace, sufficiency in all things (we’re back to the idea of met needs in Matt 6), abounding good works, and an increase in the harvest of your righteousness. What you reap are spiritual blessings, which are incorruptible wealth.

Would God turn our hearts to covet the things of true worth.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Epic Miniseries Review: The Bible

My wife and I watched The Bible on the History Channel leading up to Easter this year, and we thought it was going so well that we pre-ordered it on Blu-ray. Though I would not make the purchase so eagerly now, I still think the program can be helpful in two regards. The first is as a means to doxology; I believe a born again Christian can watch the show and praise God for his work throughout human history. The second way this miniseries can be helpful is to expose a non-Bible-reader to some biblical themes. And though the series may be a good start, but it is by no means sufficient to understand God's redemptive plan, nor is it a suitable substitute for actually opening God's Word and personally reading it.

There are many incorrect details and very much artistic license taken on biblical history. Others have detailed the many flubs, including Andy Naselli, a blogger I enthusiastically endorse. I jokingly offered a bounty of $1 per identified error to men at church. If I had actually been serious, many could have used the prize to purchase their own copy of the show and had change left over for snacks. Despite these issues, some of the extra-biblical interpretation was moving. For instance, I found myself weeping when Jesus called Matthew, even if Matthew 9:9 wasn't the final screenplay (that one scene makes the purchase worthwhile to me).

My hesitation in endorsing The Bible Miniseries comes from two problems that I consider gravely serious:

1. After the resurrection, both Peter and Stephen say that Jesus "did not die."

It felt as though the bogeyman came and punched me in the gut as I heard these pillars of the church misspeak on an important theological truth. Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett severely missed par when they allowed those statements. Jesus did die, and he had to die. Romans 6 shows what Jesus accomplished with his death: that sin would die and that death would die as we are buried and raised with Christ. If Jesus did not truly die, then he did not truly conquer sin and death and hell. In the same vein as Paul in 1 Cor 15:17, "If Christ [did not die on the cross], your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."

Perhaps the scripting can be forgiven since Jesus was shown to have actually died. But since there is so much biblical confusion and actual heresy that has followed this train of thought (saying that Jesus did not actually die), hearing an apostle and deacon say those false words is a deadly blow to the veracity of this show. This issue is overshadowed, though, by a far more egregious problem:

2. The story-line misses the point about WHY Jesus had to die

In reflecting back on the portrayed life of Jesus, what is made clear is that Jesus died to calm political tensions. Even if the interpretation isn't strictly from the pages of Scripture, they're probably true reasons and a part of the process that led to Jesus' death. Acts 2:23 shows that man played his part in the death of Jesus, but we're left wondering, "What was the point of all this?" If the television series answers for itself, it seems as if the vague answer, "Change the world." But how?!

The real answer, the point The Bible Miniseries missed, is that Jesus changed the world in his death and resurrection by being a ransom, a propitiation, an atonement. Man is wicked. The series showed this graphically, and it's one of those biblical truths we know deep in our hearts. We deserve God's wrath. But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, absorbed the wrath of God on the cross, satisfying justice and clothing us in the perfect righteousness of Jesus' life.

Jesus didn't change the world so that billions of people would run around on this planet to be his Facebook Friend. Jesus changed the world by changing hearts--by breathing life into the spiritually dead soul and giving Christians a hope of the resurrection and an eternity in loving relationship with God our Creator.

So, it's okay to watch this TV miniseries. And if it promotes discussion around the Bible and encourages people to actually dust off and crack open the holy book, then I might even consider this show a success. But it can't stop with the television screen. It needs to move to the pages of God's Word, and then that truth needs to move into our hearts. My encouragement would be to open up and read the gospel of Mark, and then find a Christian to discuss it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Answer the fool--Proverbs 26:4-5

These verses are the source of head-scratching, double-takes and careful rereading. Hopefully that was the intent of the author.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, ESV)
At first glance, these verses appear to teach the exact opposite principle. Surely the author or his scribe would catch this contradiction since the verses sit next to one another. A perusal of Study Bible notes and commentaries feels like an exercise in vindication. Here are a few published thoughts, which may be helpful:

  • Taken together these verses illustrate the point that no proverb is intended to cover every possible situation.1
  • The apparent contradiction with the last verse has troubled commentators for some time. The Rabbis solved it by saying that v. 4 referred to secular things, but v. 5 referred to sacred or religious controversies.2
  • These twin sayings, which would have invited the charge of inconsistency had they not stood together (and did incur it, even so, from some Rabbis, who thereupon questioned the canonicity of the book), bring out the dilemma of those who would reason with the unreasonable.3
  • These two proverbs seem to contradict each other. The first one warns not to answer a fool according to his folly, while the second encourages answering a fool according to his folly. However, the book of Proverbs is not a list of rules; it is a collection of general principles for life—principles which must be applied carefully to relevant situations.4
Points taken. However, what if the proverb were a play on words? Why must the phrases be taken the same way? The proposal is that "according to his folly" is meant in two senses. Here is a paraphrase that shouldn't violate the grammar of the original:

4 Do not answer a fool using his foolishness or you will be like him.
5 Respond to a fool because he is foolish or [by your silence] he will consider himself wise.

What Proverbs 26:4-5 appear to be saying is, "Make sure you answer a foolish man so he is not self-justified, but don't stoop to his level."

Oh how often we err on either side! Thankfully God gave us Proverbs to encourage our growth in wisdom.

1 The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version. 2005 (R. C. Sproul, Ed.). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.
2 Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes. Biblical Studies Press.
3 Kidner, D. (1964). Vol. 17: Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 Barry, J. D., Grigoni, M. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Job 4: Such a Worm

In the book of Job, the blameless and upright man receives a nearly lethal dose of suffering. Through a week's time, three friends sit silently with the dusty mourner until he cries out to curse the day of his birth. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, the three friends, are appalled that Job maintains his integrity and spend most of the remaining narrative trying to convince Job that he must have sinned grievously and deserves this earned retribution.

In Job 4, Eliphaz opens the arguments with simple logic: God upholds the upright and cut off the wicked, so Job must have been wicked. Eliphaz's whole premise is flawed, and the rest of the story draws out the nuance of God's sovereignty in man's affairs (hint: he is utterly sovereign).

The interesting feature of this chapter is the foundation of Eliphaz's argument--personal experience. Job 4:8 shows that Eliphaz's conclusions are drawn from observation. In his life, he has seen evil come upon the evildoer, and has never seen a good man perish. The perfect correlation, in his mind, cannot be coincidence.

This friend's second argument is interesting enough to warrant its own treatment, so before our exploration of Eliphaz's vision, consider the flaw of logic that brings him to the wrong conclusion. His foundational authority is himself. He makes up his mind with a thought, "it seems to me." Personal experience is not inherently a bad thing, but anchoring your doctrine and your wisdom to it is fraught with peril [Prov 3:7, Prov 14:12, Prov 18:17]. But oh how rampant this wisdom is today, even in the Church of Christ! Let your life be refined by Truth [Prov 9:10, Ps 119:105].

What is fascinating about Job 4 is the vision Eliphaz recounts in Job 4:12-21. Who is this spirit that brings tidings of God's transcendence and purity? Most commentators indicate their belief that this is a good spirit or angel because what he says is fundamentally true. However, evil spirits bemoan truth themselves [Mark 5:7, Act 16:17-18]. In fact, they often serve a morsel of truth to accomplish their deceptive purposes (c.f. Satan in Gen 3, Matt 4).

This deceptive half-truth technique seems to be the tactic employed against Job. If God cannot trust his exalted angels (aside: how does this spirit know that?), then how on earth could he remotely regard men of clay? For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Therefore, confess, do what's right, and God may restore you [Job 5:8-9 ff]. Satan loves to accuse God's people and wants to steal all hope from them [Zech 3:1].

But that is only half the story, for God has demonstrated his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus Christ interposed his precious blood [Isa 53:4-6]. That is the great comfort for the Christian, for yes, we were charged with error, but the Son of God has propitiated God's wrath toward those who believe.

Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Make Like a Tree

A stark contrast appeared in two books which liken men to types of trees. The first comes from a relatively well known passage in the first chapter of the Psalms. The man who relishes God's Word is like a well-watered, fruitful tree. But in Isaiah 1, the prophet speaks of the opposite kind of man--rebels and sinners--who are also like trees. These trees, however, are parched--drained of their life, ready to be set ablaze by the kiss of a spark.

These trees did not suddenly appear where they stand. The have been cultivated by seasons of choices. One grew to be lush by its deep roots--roots which drew in the refreshing drink of life. The antitype cut off its nourishment, forsaking the goodness of the Lord, withering to become nothing more than firewood.

How will you find nourishment, fruitfulness, life itself this new year? Can you find it of your own wisdom, or will you live off of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?

[Psalm 1:1] Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
[3] He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

[Isaiah 1:28] But rebels and sinners shall be broken together,
and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
[29] For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.
[30] For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.
[31] And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.