May 21, 2010

Who am I? … I will be with you…

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said to go into all the nations, make disciples of them, baptize them, and teach them to observe all that he’s commanded. This would be a discouraging commission, except for one thing – the one who has all authority on heaven and earth has promised that he will be with us, even until the end of the age. This presence is the bedrock of our confidence and our only assurance of success. Like Moses, who said, “Who am I to lead this people?” and God’s response was, “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:11-12)  Who are we? Christ Jesus is with us.

This is echoed in Philippians 4:6-9, where Paul says, “The Lord is near.” Therefore, we need not be anxious but give our cares to him. The peace of God will guard us in Christ. Let us dwell on the good, doing what we have been taught by the apostles and prophets, and “the God of peace [not just the peace of God, but the God of peace himself] will be with you” (Phil 4:9).

Father, this is your mission first and foremost. You sent your Son and to him will be the gathering of all nations. Lord, equip us to be a part of this great work, and to experience the joy of serving you for achieving the obedience of all nations for the sake of Christ’s name. And grant more grace, knowledge, wisdom, comfort, boldness, and opportunity to those who are already out there, who have already committed to the task you’ve given us. Thank you Father for permitting us to share in the glorifying of you Son among all the peoples of the earth.

May 20, 2010

Anti-Psalm 50

After reading an article from the Journal of Biblical Counseling, I learned a technique for meditating on and applying the Psalms. It is to take the Psalm and invert it to play out the implications of the opposite perspective. You can see examples of this by David Powlison with Psalm 23 and Psalm 131. This is an anti-psalm I wrote for Psalm 50:16-22.

Psalm 50:16-22 – God’s message to the wicked (Me)

But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.

“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!

Anti-Psalm 50:16-22 – God’s message to the righteous (Jesus)

But to the righteous God says:
“It makes sense for you to speak of my statutes
and teach other of my covenant.
For you love discipline,
and my words are continually before you.
You are pleased with those who give charitably and do not steal,
and you keep company with the faithful.

“You control your tongue and speak that which is good and edifying,
speaking the truth at all times to all people.
You stand and speak in defense of your brother,
you answer every accusation against him.
These things you have done, and I will declare it:
You are a son after my own heart, and with you I am pleased.
Now I commend you and will vindicate you against your enemies.

“Know this, you who remember God,
I myself will hold you together,
and I will deliver you with my own hand.

At the cross, God dealt with Jesus as if he were Psalm 50, so that at the resurrection we might stand with him as Anti-Psalm 50.

May 19, 2010

Praying Philippians 4

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

Lord, Giver of light and fountain of everlasting joy
Creator of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them
Merciful and gracious sovereign,
Who works all things according to the counsel of your immutable will,
Who stoops to comfort the lowly and brings low the haughty,
Who took my curse upon yourself, my sin,
Who works all things together for good for those who love you,
Who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,

Forgive me for not rejoicing at all times and in all circumstances.
Your mercies are abundant every day, and all that I enjoy is a gift from you. You teach me to walk in your paths and be humble before you.

Forgive me for fear and unreasonableness which I put on display for all men.
You are the light of the world and you commanded us to let our light shine among men – cause me to shine!

Forgive me for anxiousness, for hinting to others of my own sacrifice.
Lord, I’ve never made a sacrifice, and I have no grounds for boasting except in your sacrifice for me.

Forgive me for not coming to you with every need,
As if I could do anything apart from you. Take all my cares and help me, for I know you are mighty.

Forgive me for living with an ungrateful grumbling rather than a mesmerized thanksgiving.
You delivered me from Pharaoh with your mighty hand, and now I’m grumbling though you lead me toward the Promised Land.

Father, forgive me for these hidden faults, cleanse them from my heart by the blood of your Son Jesus, and fill me with your Spirit that I may taste and see and savor the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

April 14, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 6 – Genesis 1 and Your Faith

Genesis 1 and Your Faith

  • Creation is the first and perhaps most difficult article of faith. The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb 11:3). The first thing the Bible commends to us, and expects us to believe is that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That by his word he created the visible world, not forming it out of preexistent matter, but simply calling it into existence. If we actually believe this, should anything else be in doubt? Augustine takes up this line of though as he argues that it is absurd to deny that God works visible miracles in the world, while holding that he is the creator of the world:

    For we cannot listen to those who maintain that the invisible God works no visible miracles; for even they believe that He made the world, which surely they will not deny to be visible. Whatever marvel happens in this world, it is certainly less marvelous than this whole world itself,—I mean the sky and earth, and all that is in them,—and these God certainly made. But, as the Creator Himself is hidden and incomprehensible to man, so also is the manner of creation. Although, therefore, the standing miracle of this visible world is little thought of, because always before us, yet, when we arouse ourselves to contemplate it, it is a greater miracle than the rarest and most unheard-of marvels. For man himself is a greater miracle than any miracle done through his instrumentality. Therefore God, who made the visible heaven and earth, does not disdain to work visible miracles in heaven or earth, that He may thereby awaken the soul which is immersed in things visible to worship Himself, the Invisible." (City of God, Book X, Chapter 12)
  • Belief in God’s wisdom, as manifest in creation, calls us to trust him. When we don’t understand what God is doing, or why he has done something a certain way, we are called to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14). Remember the Person who has done them, the One whom we can know and love. Seek him and trust him. In the darkest hour, commit your soul to the faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19). This is the way of our Lord Jesus, who in the darkest of hour of all, under the weight of the sin of the world and under the righteous indignation of his loving Father, c omitted his soul to God (Luke 23:46). This is also the way of those who follow in his footsteps, as Stephen did (Acts 7:59). Those for whom the LORD is shepherd, can rest in the fact that he is with them and that, however dark the valley, he knows the path and is leading the way (Psalm 23:4).
  • As Christ is heir of all that is God’s, those who are united to Christ by faith are heirs of all things with him. As we saw in Part 3, Jesus Christ is heir of all that is God’s. Even more amazing is the testimony that those who trust in the name of Christ have been born again into God’s family (John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1) by the gospel, the “living and abiding word of God...the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). This new birth is a new creation, in many ways parallel to the first creation, with God commanding light to shine in the darkness of our hearts that we might see and rejoice in the glory of God in Christ (2 Cor 4:4-6). The promise as children of God is that we have become co-heirs with Christ in glory. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.(Rom. 8:16-17; See also Gal. 4:6-7; 1 Pet 1:3-5).

April 2, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 5 – Genesis 1 and You

Genesis 1 and You

So far, we’ve learned quite a bit about God from the Bible’s reflection on Genesis 1. Can we learn anything about ourselves from this passage?

  • God created us in his own image. In the flow of the narrative in Genesis 1, the creation of mankind is the crowning achievement, the climax to which the rest of the story has been building to this point. It’s almost as if all of the preceding creative activity took place to prepare the environment for human beings. The repetitiveness of Gen 1:26-27 underscores the significance the author places on being created in the “image of God.” The uniqueness of humanity when compared with the other aspects of creation is firmly established in the first chapter of the Bible. Any notion that we are just like the other animals, only a bit more evolved, is incompatible with the biblical view of mankind. There is a fundamental qualitative difference.
  • God’s image in us is the foundation of respect for other humans. In Genesis 9:6, God declares that those who commit murder shall receive the death penalty, and his reason for this is that man is created in God’s image. From the beginning there is a requirement that human life be respected. But this respect goes beyond simply respecting life, but covers the respect of the whole person. James says that we should not even curse others, since they are made in the image of God (James 3:8-10). That’s as far as a Christian needs to go to determine how they should treat others. Without respect for age, ethnicity, social status, or capabilities (physical or intellectual), all who fall under the category of human are image-bearers and therefore should be treated with respect and dignity.
  • God appointed humanity as his representatives over creation, giving them dignity and solemn responsibility. God said, “Let them have dominion” over the rest of creatures on the earth (Gen 1:26). His first directive to humanity was to “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28). It’s worth noting that this first command is actually a blessing (“And God blessed them…”). The gift of children is a blessing from the LORD (Psa 127:3). Beyond that, he blessed them with the dignity of being his agents in ruling creation. We know that “the earth is the LORD’s,” but he has delegated authority to mankind, his viceroys. When the psalmist contemplates the awe-inspiring works of God, and the smallness of humanity, he is led to ask, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). He cannot comprehend why God has given men such dignity as to be his kingly representatives over the created world (Psa. 8:5-8).
  • The fact of creation forms the foundation of Christian scientific inquiry. The command to fill the earth and subdue it, and the fact that we were created to worship our Creator, form the foundations of Christian engagement in science. In one respect, science is needed to understand how creation works, so that we may subdue, cultivate, and care for creation. At the same time, the fact that we understand the operation of nature to be the providential work of our majestic Creator leads us to an act of worship in which we are awed by the wonder of creation, while also seeking to discover the ways in which God works, much as a child desires to learn how his father does his work.
  • God created us good, but we have fallen into corruption through sin and rebellion. Understanding the truth of human sin is fundamental to gaining a clear view of the world in which we live. Without it, you’re bound to come up with the wrong diagnosis of the problem and will be unable to recognize the correct solution. The preacher declares that “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl 7:29). Made in the very image of their Creator and crowned with dignity and honor, humanity chose to worship other creatures (including itself) rather than give praise and honor to the Creator (Rom 1:21-23). From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, we see the effects of sin on every page. Though the image was not completely lost, it was marred and corrupted, such that the sin which plagues us is universal. One need look no farther than their own to see that corruption, and a simple perusal of the newspaper headlines will provide sufficient confirmation of the Christian doctrine of original sin. We were all “by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:3).
  • Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, and in him the marred image is being restored. He is the perfect image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), or as the author of Hebrews describes, “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). He is fully and truly man, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). If we want to know what humanity ought to look like, we should look to Jesus. He is also fully and truly God, sent by the Father to redeem out of sinful humanity a people for himself that would have the image of God restored, so that we will be his people and he will be our God. When we are born again we are given new hearts, a new self, which is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; also Col 3:10). The purpose of God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning, and the thing for which we seek, is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Genuine humanity, as it was created to be and as we find it in Jesus, is the goal of the Christian life.

March 23, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 4 – Genesis 1 and God’s Faithfulness

Genesis 1 and God’s Faithfulness

A recurring theme in Scripture is the faithfulness of the God of Israel, usually contrasted with the unfaithfulness of the people and their idols. He is faithful to keep the promises he has made, faithful to act in conformity to his own character, in goodness, justice, mercy, and love, etc.

  • He existed before creation and will outlast everything, so God’s children can rest firm in him. Moses prayed to God, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psa 90:2). He has always been the protector and sustainer of his people, and when faced with their mortality as a result of sin and judgment, when the community is afflicted because of their transgression, the psalmist knows that the only recourse is to the eternal God, who alone can satisfy with his steadfast love and replace affliction and death with gladness and life (Psa. 90:3, 7, 13-15). Elsewhere, the oppressed one who cries out in the face of enemies and distress (Psa 102:2-11), puts hope in a faithful Creator who was here before these things and will outlast them all:
    Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
    They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
    You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    but you are the same, and your years have no end.
    The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
    their offspring shall be established before you.

    (Psalm 102:25-28)
  • As opposed to earthly rulers, the creator of heaven and earth can be fully trusted and will not disappoint. “Don’t put your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Psa 146:3). Why not? Because he will die, returning to the dust from which he came, and all of the plans he had and promises he made will perish with him (Psa 146:4). Instead, we ought to put our trust in the LORD, “who keeps faith forever” (Psa 146:5-9). History is littered with the failed plans and unfulfilled dreams of those who have put their trust in humans and humanity to achieve peace, prosperity, and happiness. Instead, we ought to look to the one who made this universe and who rules over it, trusting that he know how it ought to function and that when we’re obeying him we are on the path to true peace, prosperity, and happiness – not in the way the world understands it, but as it truly is. There is a self-evident problem with the world and with humanity, and the solution will not be found in men, but in God.
  • The regularity of nature gives us a glimpse into God’s faithfulness to his promises
    In the face of judgment for their sins and exile from the land, the question must come up, “Has the LORD abandoned his people? Has he cast them off forever?” The people have broken covenant and Jeremiah bears witness to it, but God promises that the days are when he will make a new covenant with his people, writing his law on their hearts and forgiving their sin (Jer 31:31-34). What is the certainty of this? The same LORD who is responsible for the fixed order of the sun, moon, and stars, the one who brings about the tides of the ocean – this LORD declares that this promise is as sure as the regularity of these things (Jer 31:35-36). In other words, if you can be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, you can be certain that he will keep his promise to make a new covenant, for it the same God who does both. Similarly, what about God’s promise to David (2 Sam 7:16) of an everlasting kingdom? Israel finds themselves in exile, with no king. Did God go back on his promise to David? He declares that he will indeed fulfill his promises to David (Jer 33:14-16), and the certainty of it is the same as that of the new covenant (Jer 33:20-21, 25-26).
  • God’s covenant to maintain the order of the created world is the rational foundation for scientific inquiry. This regularity of nature is something that we often take for granted, as if it’s inherent in existence itself. However, the Bible testifies that this regularity is a fulfillment of God’s promise, first made to Noah in Genesis 8:22. In our naturalistic culture, we often view these regularities as if they are perfectly rational – as if that’s the way it must be. We no longer view the laws of nature simply as descriptions of observed and dependable regularity, but have proceeded to draw the irrational connection that things must, of necessity, be this way and continue this way. In his classic book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton puts this beautifully when he discusses how fairy tales approach reality more sanely than modern rationalism:

    “It might be stated this way. There are certain sequences or developments (cases of one thing following another), which are, in the true sense of the word, reasonable. They are, in the true sense of the word, necessary. Such are mathematical and merely logical sequences. We in fairyland (who are the most reasonable of all creatures) admit that reason and that necessity. For instance, if the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters. There is no getting out of it. Haeckel may talk as much fatalism about that fact as he pleases: it really must be. If Jack is the son of a miller, a miller is the father of Jack. Cold reason decrees it from her awful throne: and we in fairyland submit. If the three brothers all ride horses, there are six animals and eighteen legs involved: that is true rationalism, and fairyland is full of it. But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened -- dawn and death and so on -- as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one trees make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of the imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by the tail. … We have always in our fairy tales kept this sharp distinction between the science of mental relations, in which there really are laws, and the science of physical facts, in which there are no laws, but only weird repetitions. We believe in bodily miracles, but not in mental impossibilities. We believe that a Bean-stalk climbed up to Heaven; but that does not at all confuse our convictions on the philosophical question of how many beans make five.

    Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery tales. The man of science says, "Cut the stalk, and the apple will fall"; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairy tale says, "Blow the horn, and the ogre's castle will fall"; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause. Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary mental connection between a horn and a falling tower. But the scientific men do muddle their heads, until they imagine a necessary mental connection between an apple leaving the tree and an apple reaching the ground. They do really talk as if they had found not only a set of marvellous facts, but a truth connecting those facts. They do talk as if the connection of two strange things physically connected them philosophically. They feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing. Two black riddles make a white answer.

    In fairyland we avoid the word "law"; but in the land of science they are singularly fond of it. Thus they will call some interesting conjecture about how forgotten folks pronounced the alphabet, Grimm's Law. But Grimm's Law is far less intellectual than Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are, at any rate, certainly tales; while the law is not a law. A law implies that we know the nature of the generalisation and enactment; not merely that we have noticed some of the effects. If there is a law that pick-pockets shall go to prison, it implies that there is an imaginable mental connection between the idea of prison and the idea of picking pockets. And we know what the idea is. We can say why we take liberty from a man who takes liberties. But we cannot say why an egg can turn into a chicken any more than we can say why a bear could turn into a fairy prince. As ideas, the egg and the chicken are further off from each other than the bear and the prince; for no egg in itself suggests a chicken, whereas some princes do suggest bears. Granted, then, that certain transformations do happen, it is essential that we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of science and the "Laws of Nature." When we are asked why eggs turn to birds or fruits fall in autumn, we must answer exactly as the fairy godmother would answer if Cinderella asked her why mice turned to horses or her clothes fell from her at twelve o'clock. We must answer that it is magic. It is not a "law," for we do not understand its general formula. It is not a necessity, for though we can count on it happening practically, we have no right to say that it must always happen. It is no argument for unalterable law (as Huxley fancied) that we count on the ordinary course of things. We do not count on it; we bet on it. We risk the remote possibility of a miracle as we do that of a poisoned pancake or a world-destroying comet. We leave it out of account, not because it is a miracle, and therefore an impossibility, but because it is a miracle, and therefore an exception. All the terms used in the science books,  "law,"  "necessity,"  "order,"  "tendency," and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, "charm," "spell," "enchantment." They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.”(29-30)

    This is not to deny the value of scientific inquiry, discovery of the regularities of nature, and the explanation of observed causes and effects. On the contrary, only the worldview which understands the Creator God as the guarantor of this regularity and which sees the universe as a linear progression has a true rational basis for its science.
  • Jesus Christ is the sustainer of the created order. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Elsewhere, we understand that he is “before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). The one who was deserted by all, even his closest of friends, is the same one who gives to all sunshine and rain, seasons and celebration. The one who was slain on the cross by humans, is the same one who gives to all humans breath and life and everything. He remained faithful, even to death, and through this faithfulness has brought life to those who believe. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13)

March 16, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 3 – Genesis 1 and God’s Possessions

Genesis 1 and God’s Possessions

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
(Psalm 24:1-2)

  • Since God is the Creator of all things, he is their rightful owner. As the psalmist declared above, the whole earth belongs to God, and everything in it (including us). In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me” (Jer. 27:5). The Bible makes several applications of this truth:
    1) God is sovereign over his creation. God has total freedom in the way he deals with creation. This is not simply “might makes right,” but more like “the world is rightfully mine, and I will do what I please with it.” This means that if he determines it is right to hand the whole world over to Nebuchadnezzar, then he is free to do so. This is often not on our grid, but God himself determines the boundaries and reign of nations and peoples, and he does so to carry out his purposes on the earth (Acts 17:26; Job 12:23; Deut 32:8). King Nebuchadnezzar came to realize this after his humiliation (Dan 4:34-35). Since all belong to him, all are subject to his authority without exception, whether willing or rebellious. As John Frame describes in his book, Doctrine of God, “His authority is so universal that when he speaks, things that don’t exist obey by coming into existence” (paraphrase).
    2) Every created thing is good when used properly. The apostle Paul applies this truth to the question of whether the Corinthians could eat foods in the marketplace or at someone’s house which might have been sacrificed to idols. Paul says to eat freely, without asking questions, for the whole earth belongs to the Lord (1 Cor. 10:25-26). It is only for the sake of the other person’s conscience (if they mention that it had been sacrificed) that the food shouldn’t be eaten. The guiding principle here is that all things were made by God and declared by him to be good. The fact that the meat is sacrificed to idols does not change the properties of the meat itself, rendering it evil. The evil is in the idolatrous heart, so we abstain when it may lead someone astray, or when eating involves participating in idolatry. Jesus strikes a similar note in Luke 10:8, and is even more explicit elsewhere (Mark 7:14-23). God’s judgment in Genesis 1 stands (Gen 1:10,12,18,21,25,31) – all that he created is good and nothing to be rejected, if received with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4). In another place we read, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure…” (Titus 1:15). The impurity arises not because of anything inherent in the creation, but from a deviation of its intended purpose and appropriate use. This applies to every substance and every activity under the sun – whether food, sex, recreation, or anything else. For believers who know the truth, determining the lawful use or abstinence of these things falls under the all-encompassing rubric of “the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31; Col 3:17; 1 Pet 4:11). This is not lawlessness, but the only true kind of lawfulness – with the law of God written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
    3) Everything we have is a gift. In David’s prayer before the assembly, he acknowledges a critical implication of God’s ownership – that nothing we have is ours, except what he has given us as a gift. When all of the offerings for the temple were brought forward by the people, David says, “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own” (1 Chron 29:10-16). Our entire lives ought to be shaped by this doxology. The way we hold onto (or let go of) our possessions, the way we spend our time, the way we view ourselves in relation to others, and the way we worship should be shaped by this understanding that there is nothing we have that we have not first received as a gift.
  • As creation’s owner, God takes responsibility for maintaining and upholding it. The God who made and owns this universe, also cares for it, tends to it, and maintains it. The Bible leaves no room for the Deistic image of a creator God who sets the wheels in motion and then sits back to see how things turn out. Far from it. Instead, we find an amazing picture of God’s care down to the smallest detail of his creation. Psalm 104 paints this beautifully. Zooming in from laying the foundations of the earth, to forming the mountains and valleys, to bringing forth the streams of water, we find God “causing the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate” (Psa 104:14). He provides trees for shelter, and even provides the food for lions (Psa 104:21). The psalmist is not ignorant of secondary causes. The agrarian society knew well that seeds needed planted and watered and that lions hunted their pray, but they rightly understood that these things ultimately come from the Lord. Jesus also teaches us that God feeds the birds, and clothes the grass of the field (Matt 6:26-30). We should rejoice in God’s care and admire it, and as Jesus says, we should learn to trust our Father’s loving hand, who keeps track even of the very hairs on our head (Luke 12:7).
  • As God’s Son, Jesus Christ is heir to all that is God’s and exercises all of the authority which is rightfully God’s. In Psalm 2, the Lord declares to the Messiah: “Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property” (Psalm 2:8 NET). In Daniel 7, he is granted the reign and rule over all of God’s creation (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus lays claim to this inheritance, declaring that it is he who has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:20) and everything that is God’s is his (Matt. 11:27; John 3:35; 5:26-27; 13:3; 17:2). We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign (Rev. 11:15-17)

March 10, 2010

Watergate and the Resurrection of Christ

In his book Loving God, Chuck Colson recounts his experiences inside of the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. He discusses how even though the cover-up technically went back to the June, 1972 break-in, the real cover up – the one which should be obviously illegal to everyone involved – began on March 21, 1973 and ended on April 8, 1973. A small group of people, all fiercely loyal to their leader, President Nixon, could not keep a conspiracy going for longer than two weeks. Despite of all the power available to them, and all that they had sacrificed in their commitment to President Nixon, within a few weeks they jumped ship one-by-one and struck a deal to attempt to cover themselves. He writes:

Think of what was at stake: Each of us involved – Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, and the rest – believed passionately in President Nixon. To enter government service for him we had sacrificed very lucrative private law practices and other endeavors; we had sacrificed our family lives and privacy; we had invested our whole lives in the work, twenty-four hours a day if necessary…

Think of the privileges: a call to the military aide’s office would produce a limousine or jet airplane; the National Gallery delivered classic paintings to adorn our office walls; red-jacketed stewards stood in waiting to serve food and drink twenty-four hours a day; private phones appeared wherever we traveled; secret service men were always within sight – as many as we wanted.

Yet even the prospect of jeopardizing the President we’d worked so hard to elect, of losing the prestige, power, and personal luxury of our offices was not enough incentive to make this group of men contain a lie. Nor, as I reflect today, was the pressure really all that great; at that point there had certainly been moral failures, criminal violations, even perjury by some. There was certain to be keen embarrassment; at the worst, some might go to prison, though that possibility was by no means certain. But no one was in grave danger; no one’s life was at stake.
(p. 67)

In many respects, what took place is simply the human instinct for self-preservation and can be witnessed in any number of scenarios where someone is faced with unpleasant consequences if they choose to uphold a lie. Colson then goes on to draw a connection to the events surrounding the resurrection of Christ. If Christ was not raised, and the tomb was empty because the disciples, and 500 others (1 Cor 15:6), had conspired to steal the body and lie about it, why would we expect anything different from them? This was a group of people who had no power, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by upholding the lie, and whose loyalty to their leader, if he was really still dead, meant absolutely nothing. Their persistent confession in the face of torture and death and their zealous evangelistic efforts are incredibly difficult to account for in light of this. While this may be an old and very common apologetic for the resurrection,  it is interesting to see the sociological confirmation in a contemporary event such as Watergate.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, you must come up with an answer to what you do with the resurrection. The historic rise and present existence of Christianity demands it. There is an historical record intact all the way back to a rag-tag group of disciples who maintained that they had been eye-witnesses to the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Jesus (and had spoken to, touched, and eaten with him over a period of 40 days), and who chose to be ostracized, beaten, and killed rather than deny it.

March 8, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 2 – Genesis 1 and God

Genesis 1 and God

The first and most important thing we can learn about creation from the Bible is what it tells us about God himself. We read in Psalm 19:1-2 that the glory of God is proclaimed in all of creation. What is creation proclaiming about God?

  • He is there, eternal and powerful. It is worth noting that the Bible never attempts to argue for God’s existence. His existence is axiomatic in a very real sense, it is a self-evident truth. Romans 1:19-20 declares that through the things God has made, his eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen – so much so that those who behold this creation and yet refuse to worship him with praise and thanksgiving are said to be without excuse. How can you stand and look out onto the ocean without a sense of awe? Or look over a precipice at the Grand Canyon and not be amazed? Or peer into the expanse of the galaxies, knowing that you can see stars at incomprehensible distances but are only beholding a tiny fraction of the universe, and not be filled with wonder? Likewise, how can you look into an electron microscope and see the incredible complexity and activity of the smallest organisms and not be fascinated? Or consider the findings of quantum physics and not tremble? All of these things trigger in us the built-in and unquenchable desire for worship and should point us to their Creator, bringing us to our knees in humble adoration.
  • He is incomparably wise. The fact that this universe, in all its complexity and intricate detail, was designed and created by God is a testimony to his wisdom. In Proverbs 8:22-30, Wisdom personified proclaims how God possessed her at the beginning of his work of creation and that she was present during the whole process. This should always be in our mind whenever we feel drawn to question the way God has done something, or to doubt whether obedience to his command in a specific matter is really the best way. In the book of Job, the first 35 chapters are a series of dialogues in which Job seeks to bring an indictment against God for the way he has dealt with Job. God’s first response is not to defend himself to Job, but to remind him what he already knows (Job 28:22-28), namely, that true wisdom is found in God alone. He does this by asking Job if he too was around when God laid the foundations of the world (Job 38:4-11). The question itself serves to contrast God’s perfect knowledge with Job’s lack of it, and to point out the ridiculousness of the creature contending with his Creator. A similar tone is struck in Isaiah 40, where God proclaims his incomparable greatness, including his wisdom in creation (Isa 40:13-26).
  • He is distinct from his creation and not dependant on it. God’s existed before creation and is separate from it. Before God created, there was nothing but him, and everything that exists does so because he spoke it into existence. In Acts 17:24-25, Paul declares that the God who made the universe needs nothing from it. He doesn’t depend on his creatures for anything, but we depend on him for everything. Any view of God that leaves him dependant on his creatures for happiness or fulfillment is deficient. Likewise, any view that fails to distinguish God from his creation is deficient. This contradicts several worldviews which are common today, including materialism (the material world is all there is - no God), pantheism (the world is God, in whole or in part), and dualism (the world is distinct from and co-eternal with God).
  • The fact that God is creator of all things makes him worthy of worship. Why should we worship God? When contemplating God’s character and all of his works, there are many things that can and should cause us to worship him. However, the most frequently cited reason why God should be worshipped is the fact that he created all things, including us. This is universally true, and therefore the obligation to worship is universal. The psalmist exhorts all the inhabitants of the world to fear the LORD, and to stand in awe of him. Why? Because he spoke the universe into being by his mighty word (Psa. 33:6-9). In the book of Revelation, the 24 elders worshipping before the throne sing this chorus:

    Worthy are you, our Lord and God,

    To receive glory and honor and power,
    for you created all things,
    and by your will they existed and were created.
    (Rev. 4:11)

    God doesn’t need to do anything to become worthy of our worship. His very existence as our creator makes him worthy.
  • Jesus Christ is the Word of God, which brought the universe into being. The mystery of the Trinity is at work in the creation of the universe itself. The eternal Word of God, who is God, and who is the Son of God the Father, prior to becoming flesh and dwelling as the son of a carpenter in Galilee, brought the universe into being (John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:10-12). There is a fellowship and a love within the Godhead that precedes any created thing (John 17:5) and it is out of this love that creation takes place. All things were made by Christ and for Christ (Col. 1:15-16). All of our thoughts about Jesus Christ should be framed by this understanding. All of the things we spoke about the Creator, we speak about Christ, and all of the worship we owe to our Creator, we owe to Christ.

March 7, 2010

Reflecting on the Bible – Part 1

Whenever I read the Bible, particularly when I’m reading through familiar sections, there is a risk that even though I am reading it, I’m not actually listening to what God has said (and is saying) through it. I am reading the words and hopefully even following the plotline of the story, yet oftentimes I do not take the time to think about what I’ve read and reflect on the significance of it. It is this thought and reflection that the Bible refers to as meditation. Far from the popular notion of passivity, or spending hours cross-legged on the floor in a trance-like state, this meditation is active and engaged. It involves contemplating and considering what the text says, why it says what it does, and what the implications of this are. It begins while we’re reading, but should continue throughout the day. During a lull in the day’s activities, while waiting in line or in traffic, or instead of being distracted by the noisiness of life and the unlimited forms of entertainment which surround us, the mind focuses in on the text again and continues to think about what it means. It is this persistent and prayerful reflection, combined with an obedient heart, which leads to true wisdom and discernment.
O how I love your law!
All day long I meditate on it.
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
for I am always aware of them.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your rules.
I am more discerning than those older than I,
for I observe your precepts.
(Psalm 119:97-99; see also Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:14-16)
A difficulty arises when we think about this in the face of our fast-paced, instant-results culture. In many respects, we’ve forgotten how to think or reflect. It’s not enough to say, “I need to seek wisdom from God through prayer and meditation on Scripture.” The problem is that I don’t know how to meditate or what the results of it should be. When I read a passage from the Bible, I get what is said, but I’m often left with a “so what?” feeling, or an “I already know that story” reaction. There is certainly much to be gleaned directly from the surface of many texts and this is a blessing, but when it comes to plumbing the depths and thinking through the significance of an ancient text for our life today things are much more difficult. What are we to do? How can we learn how to reflect on the Bible?
A good place to start in a quest for the answer is in the pages of the Bible itself. Since the composition of the Bible in its present form took place over the course of 1500 years, an interesting phenomenon develops. As you progress through the text, you’ll find that the Bible contains much reflection, interpretation, analysis, and application of itself. Many of the prophets, apostles, and holy men of millennia past, whose Spirit-inspired words now make up the text of our Bible, were themselves students of Scripture, meditating day and night in the pursuit of wisdom from God, and the result of those meditations can found throughout their writings.
An excellent demonstration of this is Genesis 1. Undoubtedly one of the most familiar passages in the Bible, since every Bible reading plan starts here and it is often brought into discussions on various topics. This familiarity is what leads to some of the feelings expressed above. I already know what it says – “God created the world, he created plants, animals, humans, six days, so on…” What significance does this have for us? Is there any value in continued meditation and reflection on Genesis 1? Beyond any insight into the creation vs. evolution discussion about cosmic origins, is there any wisdom to be gained from the truths set forth in this chapter or should I just continue reading on to Genesis 2?
In a series of posts, I’d like to engage in an exercise where I ask this question of the other biblical authors and seek out their reflections on Genesis 1 and the truth of God as Creator. Through this, I hope to not only learn more about God and his world, but also to gain some insight into how the biblical authors reflected on and applied Scripture, which would help me to sharpen my own ability to reflect on and apply Scripture. The method is simple and can be done by anyone. First, I begin with Genesis 1, seeking to understand the flow of the story and paying attention to the emphases and details along the way. Next, I collect the cross-references found in a few different Bibles (since the cross-references vary among versions, I use 3 Bibles which I’ve found to have helpful cross-reference systems – ESV, NASB, and Cambridge KJV Reference edition). Using those cross-references, I look for quotations, allusions, or reflections that are relevant to the subject matter of Genesis 1. For each reference, I ask “What is the text saying?” and “How is the author understanding or applying the truths of Genesis 1?”
I will post the results of this exercise under the 5 headings below:

March 3, 2010

More on Genealogies - “A whole bunch of dead folks…”

I asked the question previously, “What do you do with genealogies?” In particular, the really intimidating ones like 1 Chronicles 1-9. Does anyone preach on these? Would anyone dare? Should they dare? I searched an online sermon database, and with the exception of the Prayer of Jabez, 1 Chronicles 1-9 was left untouched. There was one pastor I forgot about who I thought might just be willing to attempt to expound and apply this text.

I recently finished a book by Dale Ralph Davis called The Word Became Fresh. It’s a short but worthwhile read on how we should approach, interpret, and apply the Old Testament narrative texts. I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles through some of the Old Testament history and wonders what they should do with it. This books does a good job of showing you why these texts matter, how to apply them, and how not to apply them. I thought that perhaps he might have something useful to say on 1 Chronicles 1-9, and it turns out that he does.

On Advent Sunday 2004, he preached a sermon on this text entitled, “A whole bunch of dead folks for Christmas,” which I found to be incredibly helpful. If you’re wondering how the genealogies of Chronicles relate to you and what they have to do with Jesus, check out the sermon here:

A whole bunch of dead folks for Christmas

March 2, 2010

Genealogies in the Bible

I’m never really sure what to do with the genealogies in the Bible. Other people have taught me a bit about the significance of some of them, but it is certainly a struggle. The “and he died” of Genesis 5 underscores that the sentence against Adam and Eve was carried out as promised and that it affected their descendants in the same manner. The short one at the end of Ruth informs us that this story carries significance beyond the immediate events, and would produce King David, from whom the Messiah would come. Speaking of which, the genealogy of Matthew one is perhaps the most perspicuous in its theology, subversive as it may be. The fact that he includes 4 women (which itself is unheard of) – including an incestuous relationship, a gentile prostitute, a gentile saint, and an adulterous affair – points to the significance of this King, who would be Savior of Jew and Gentile, male and female, sinner and saint.

But what of all the other genealogies? What about 9 chapters of it in 1 Chronicles? I venture to guess that others have plumbed the depths of even these and found edification. After all, they are part of “all scripture” (2 Tim 3:16). I’m still not sure what to do with them. Certainly, there are pieces here and there that some have made use of, such as the infamous Prayer of Jabez (1 Chr 4:9-10). A quick search of sermon central shows that this might be the only passage in 9 chapters which have found their way into the pulpit. Surely there’s more to it than that, right? After all, the author seems to have been quite intentional in beginning his work in this manner. 1 Chronicles seems to seek continuity between the pre-exilic people and those who have returned to the land, with a special emphasis on the house of David, the tribe of Judah, and the tribe of Levi. One thing that strikes me is all of the untold stories that exist alongside the people whose lives have been set forth in Scripture. God is carrying out His purposes in history, and the Bible records many generations of people who lived and died with little or no fanfare, undoubtedly many of them wicked and some of them faithful, but all playing some role in this grand drama of redemption.

I suppose that it’s thoughts like the above that would incline someone to read a book with a title like The Chronicler's Genealogies: Towards an understanding of 1 Chronicles 1-9. Unless our confession is merely lip service, it would seem to me that there’s value in such a study. Here’s some more stuff on genealogies from a quick search:

A storm is coming (1 Chronicles 1-9)

Nine Purposes of Biblical Genealogies

Avoid genealogies?

February 18, 2010

The Five Love Languages - A Critique

This article by David Powlison offers a sober, biblical analysis of the wildly popular book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. If you're familiar with the book, it's well worth reading the article. Even if you're not, it's still an edifying read.

Read it here.

(HT: JT)

February 1, 2010

The Conqueror of My Soul

William Henley’s famous poem Invictus provides a picture of the groundless defiance of humanism in the face of a cold, unrelenting, and hopeless Universe:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

In brilliant contrast, Dorothea Day’s Conquered presents the assured dependence of the conquered Christian in the arms of the loving, merciful, and sovereign Lord of the Universe:

Out of the light that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under the rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears—
That life with Him! and His the aid,
That spite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep, me unafraid.

I shall not fear, though straight the gate;
He cleared from punishments the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate;
Christ is the Captain of my soul.

January 18, 2010

Donations for Haiti Relief

Desiring God has several links to organizations where you can send money to support relief efforts in Haiti:

11 Charities Collecting Donations for Haiti

Check them out and give what money you can, but most of all take the time and give your prayers.

January 8, 2010

The Bible and the Pain of Infertility

This is a challenging article from the Journal of Biblical Counseling on coping with infertility, and some suggestions on how to comfort and counsel (and how not to counsel) those who are suffering from infertility.

An excerpt:

People have very definite ideas about what reproductive technologies are acceptable. Are you going to do in vitro? Is that right to do? Right for us? People will very likely render their opinion about a wide variety of methods. This may seem like an invasion of your privacy.

Your level of faith. “If you have more faith, God will bless you with a child. You just don’t have enough faith.” “You are not responding to your suffering correctly.” “Trust God! He knows what’s good for you. He has good things for you.” People say these things to you very casually and they are not helpful. They are handing you another burden to carry—you don’t have enough faith!

In the midst of our infertility, I cried a million tears. I cried out to God. I read the Bible. I read about Hannah. I read about Rachel. I read about Sarah. I read about Elizabeth. But they all had their babies! I read these stories over and over again thinking it would help. It did help in one way. It validated how hard infertility is. Hannah cried, “Give me a baby or I die.” In my own anguish, I ranted and raved. If I saw a story on TV about a baby thrown in a dumpster, or a child who had suffered abuse, I screamed at the television. That was part of the way I processed my anger.

Grief. No funeral. No burial. No flowers. No cards. Yet there is a death: the death of hopes of the wonder of a child emerging from your love.

How would a counselor work with me? I’m angry. I feel defective. I’m trying to figure out where God is in all of this, but can’t. I come to you. What are you going to say to me? How does your own experience with childbearing relate to my experience of infertility?

Read the whole thing here.