May 26, 2009

Death is Not Dying - A Faith That Saves

If you haven't already heard this, then take an hour out of your day and watch the video below, or download the audio and listen on your mp3 player as you go. It is worth your time, and you won't regret listening. Rachel Barkey is dying, but she speaks words of life.

(HT: James White / DG)

May 21, 2009

The New Birth

John Piper recently gave a conference message on what it means to be "born again." I often feel that this is one of the most important, yet least discussed/understood doctrines in Christianity today. This message should give you a good idea of what it's all about:

May 17, 2009

Hope against Hope – Part 3 – When Hope Seems to Fail

The Response of Job – Worship and Honest Supplication

Job was an extremely wealthy man - one who feared God and turned away from evil. He had ten children and was clearly blessed beyond measure. However, within the course of a day, Job receives news that all of his oxen and donkeys have been stolen and his servants murdered, all of his sheep and their shepherds have been consumed by a fire from the sky, and all of his children have been killed in a tornado.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20-21

What is Job’s response? He is devastated and distraught. He mourns as any human being would in the face of such tragedy. It’s important to note this part, lest you read the following sentence as some kind of platitude denying the reality of the situation. As if he had said, “Oh well, praise God anyway.” Job is worshipping in the midst of his intense mourning, acknowledging the God who created him, who blessed him with all that he has ever had, and who has now, in his sovereign will, taken those blessings away.

It does not end here…

Job is struck with a horrible skin disease from his head to his toe (Job 2:7-8; Job 7:5). He finds himself sitting in ashes scraping off dead skin with a broken piece of pottery. He has reached rock bottom at this point.

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:9-10

Job’s wife has seen enough and she tells him to curse God and die, yet Job refuses. There are roots that go much deeper than Job’s possessions, family, and even his own health. God is not a compartment of Job’s life, but is the very foundation of it. Though he doesn’t know what God is doing, he refuses to lose faith and he knows that there is no one else to turn to in this situation but God himself. You can hear the echoes of Psalm 73:25-26 and Psalm 63:3 throughout the book.

It’s worth noting here that the book reveals more to us about what was going on than Job himself knew at the time. We see the scene in heaven, where Satan comes before God and challenges the Job’s faith. Satan says that Job only fears God because he has been blessed with so much, and later that he only fears God because he has his health. God permits Satan to take away everything Job has, and then later to take his health, only requiring that his life be spared. So the actual agent in Job’s calamity was Satan. However, both times Job credits God with what has happened. Was Job wrong? Did he falsely accuse God for his circumstances when it was actually Satan who harmed him? Job 1:22 and Job 2:10 seem to indicate that this was not the case. Instead, Job knows that God is sovereign, and though there may be other agents involved, nothing comes to pass without his consent. Therefore, he goes to the source, the only one whose will must be done, and acknowledges that God is ultimately the source of everything that he receives, both good and bad.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
Job 13:15

So in the midst of this suffering, Job worships God and demonstrates that God is more precious to him than everything that he has lost. His hope is in God himself, and not simply in the gifts that God gives. However, the book of Job is not advocating an attitude of stoicism here. Facing immense pain and suffering, Job takes his case to God, to plead with him. The next 35 chapters consist of the back and forth between Job and his friends, and Job’s appeals to God.

Eliphaz: God does not punish the innocent, so clearly you are being disciplined. Hold in there and he will restore you.
Job: I have no strength to wait and I wish that God would just finish me off. Show me where I have done wrong!
Bildad: God is not unjust. Your children sinned and were delivered up. Plead to God for mercy and he will restore you.
Job: I know that God is all-wise and no one can contend with him and say, “What are you doing?” I am blameless, yet I suffer like this. I see that the blameless and the wicked are both destroyed in calamity. God, why am I suffering like this though I am innocent?
Zophar: You cannot speak that way about God. Remove iniquity and injustice from you and he will restore you.
Job: I know all these things. I know that God is all-wise and powerful, yet that is not helping me. Why do you guys stick up for God and show partiality? God will judge you. God, withdraw your hand from me and let me speak to you. Show me my sin.
Eliphaz: How dare you speak about God like that! The wicked suffer because of their wickedness.
Job: You all are miserable comforters. I am ready to die.
Bildad: God punishes the wicked and they are brought low.
Job: Your words are torture. All my friends have forsaken me and I am despised of men. I know that my Vindicator lives and that he will vindicate me. Though I am going to die, I will see God.
Zophar: Don’t you know that the wicked will suffer greatly in the earth?
Job: Look at me, and what do you see?! Yet look at the world. The wicked become great kings and prosper, though they say, “We have no need of God.” I see the wicked succeed at every turn. Clearly, your words are of no comfort.
Eliphaz: Clearly you are full of sin! You’ve stolen from your brothers. You’ve refused water to the thirsty and food to the hungry. You’ve despised widows and orphans. Repent and return to God.
Job: I want to speak with God and plead my case before him. Where is he? Where is his justice?
Bildad: No man can be in the right before God!
Job: God is all powerful and who can understand his ways. I refuse to accept all of your accusations against me. Until I day, I will confess my innocence in this matter. Where is wisdom to be found but in God? The fear of the LORD is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.
Zophar: Silence
Job: I wish that things were like they used to be, when everything was pleasant, and I acted righteously to those who were suffering. But now I am scorned and abhorred and my afflictions have overwhelmed me. If I have been sinful, then let my judgment come upon me, but I insist that this is not so.

At this point, a new speaker emerges. Elihu, who has been listening up to this point, can no longer remain silent. When considering his words, take two things into account: 1. Unlike his other friends, Job does not counter Elihu and seek to defend himself. 2. When God declares Job’s friends in the wrong, he does not include Elihu in his judgment.

“Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed
and with continual strife in his bones,
so that his life loathes bread,
and his appetite the choicest food.
His flesh is so wasted away that it cannot be seen,
and his bones that were not seen stick out.
His soul draws near the pit,
and his life to those who bring death.
If there be for him an angel,
a mediator, one of the thousand,
to declare to man what is right for him,
and he is merciful to him, and says,
‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
I have found a ransom;
let his flesh become fresh with youth;
let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
then man prays to God, and he accepts him;
he sees his face with a shout of joy,
and he restores to man his righteousness.
He sings before men and says:
‘I sinned and perverted what was right,
and it was not repaid to me.
He has redeemed my soul from going down into the pit,
and my life shall look upon the light.’
“Behold, God does all these things,
twice, three times, with a man,
to bring back his soul from the pit,
that he may be lighted with the light of life.
Job 33:19-30

“The godless in heart cherish anger;
they do not cry for help when he binds them.
They die in youth,
and their life ends among the cult prostitutes.
He delivers the afflicted by their affliction
and opens their ear by adversity.
He also allured you out of distress
into a broad place where there was no cramping,
and what was set on your table was full of fatness. “
Job 36:13-16

The insight that Elihu’s speech provides is that both the righteous and the wicked do indeed suffer affliction, but that God is not punishing the righteous. Instead, he is saving them by means of their affliction, bringing them into a place of blessedness. He is purifying them of sin, and bringing them into a greater knowledge of himself.

The book of Job often leaves one with more questions than answers, but it is a book worth dwelling on. God does not explain to Job why he has suffered, nor does he offer a defense to Job. Yet it appears that Job’s interpretation of his own suffering has changed, and he no longer desires vindication from God. Ironically, Job is vindicated after all and God declares that he spoke what is right, unlike Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. I’ll leave it to you to ponder the mysteries and the questions of Job, but consider:

- The righteous do suffer, and God has allowed it
- Satan is often the immediate agent of this, even acting through natural disasters, but he must be permitted by God to do so
- In worshipping through suffering, the righteous display that they treasure God above all else
- The intent of suffering for the righteous is not punitive, but salvific
- There are times when it is clear that someone’s suffering is the result of a specific sin of which they are in denial or unrepentant (e.g. David and Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:7-14) and the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:27-34)) and the proper response is confrontation on the part of their brothers, and repentance on the part of the one who sinned. However, other times (as in Job’s case) this is not clear, and the proper response of the comforters is to weep with those who weep, and comfort them in the knowledge that God is sovereign and that he does not afflict his children with retribution as a judge, but with the hands of a loving Father he brings them up in righteousness and is conforming them to the image of his Son. The proper response of the one suffering is to seek after God with a humble honesty, laying their hearts bare before God, prepared with the knowledge that they may not receive an explanation, but may instead have an encounter with the living God.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
1 Peter 4:19

Hope against Hope – Part 2 – What if it doesn’t happen?

We know that God is faithful and that we can stand in hope against the wave of faithlessness and slander which cries out, “Your God is not trustworthy!” But what do you do if something unexpected happens? When the deliverance hasn’t come as you anticipated? When the thing that you had hoped for did not come to pass? When it seems as if the cry of the faithless is right? How do you respond when it happens? Is it unbelief to even consider such things?

The Response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - Obedience

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Dan 3:12-18

Nebuchadnezzar has commanded that the people worship the golden image that he has setup. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse, preferring to obey the God of Israel rather than be spared the penalty of death in a fiery furnace. This is actually an account of a miraculous act of deliverance by the Almighty, and is well worth reading and savoring. However, for the purposes at hand, three little words in their answer to the king are critical:

But if not…

After declaring their faith that God is able to deliver them and their confidence that he will do so, they follow it by saying, “But if not…” How can this be? Did they doubt? Why even consider a scenario in which God doesn’t deliver them? Is this a point of weakness in their faith?

On the contrary, rather than being a point of weakness, this demonstrates the deep roots of their faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego put all their hope in God, and trust in him to deliver them from Nebuchadnezzar. However, their “but if not” demonstrates that their hope is founded upon a trust in God himself and his sovereign wisdom, not simply in the fact that God will bring about the outcome that they desire. That is, they hope in God for deliverance, but even if it does not come as they expect, they will still obey him because they know he is trustworthy, and that if he does not keep them from the fire, then he has greater plans. They could secure their own deliverance by disobeying God and obeying Nebuchadnezzar, but they trust God when he promises that the only wise path is that of obedience to him. If you continue reading Daniel 3, you will see that they were not saved from the fire, but preserved through it, encountering God in the process, and his name was glorified throughout Babylon…

May 6, 2009

Can you read 12-pages a day?

If so, you could read the entire Bible in about 90 days. Sounds crazy, but isn't that just how we read through other books? How often do you read through a good book 2-pages at a time? One of the reasons it's so easy to get off track in the typical reading plan is that it takes so long and there is no sense of continuity. By taking 3 weeks to read through Genesis, you miss many of the overarching themes and patterns that emerge when taking in the whole book at once. Additionally, if you actually make it 3/4 of the way through, you've forgotten much of what you read earlier and may miss the import of many allusions or quotations. This has been my experience, at least. 

If you want to try it out, here is a 90-day plan that's broken down by week:

Here is a post explaining some of the benefits of such a read-through and how taking on the challenge with a partner can be edifying for both of you.

Here are some additional suggestions:

1. Find a good translation that has the right balance of accuracy and readability. There are a number of excellent translations out there and I use several different ones depending on the type of studying I am doing. For this type of reading, there is no better translation (in my opinion, of course!) than the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It's a fairly recent and poorly marketed translation, but the English is supremely readable and quite faithful to the original languages. Other good options would be the ESV or TNIV.

2. Don't get discouraged if you miss a day (or week). If you fall behind a day or two, so what? Just keep going. If you can make it up, great. If not, then it's a 95 day plan. No big deal. Just make sure you keep going.

3. Ask yourself questions as you read. What message is the author trying to get across? Why did they phrase it in this way? Why did they include this detail, or exclude that one? What does this tell me about God? What does this tell me about the humans? If you read something that doesn't make sense, is intriguing, or speaks to you in some other way, jot it down and come back to it later for further study.  

4. Pray, Pray, Pray. Before you start reading, pray for God to guide your heart and mind so that you will be receptive to His words and that you will be able to fellowship with Him. Pray as you are reading - when you're struck by God's power, His mercy, His justice, His love, His holiness, etc, just take a moment to praise Him. When you're confronted with you're own sin, take a moment to repent and thank Him. When you're finished, pray that He would implant the word in your heart so that it might take root and produce much fruit.