Friday, October 31, 2008

Making Christ in Our Image or Being Remade in His: A Post from Phillip Jensen

Phillip Jensen always has wonderful things to say. There is so much we can learn from the Lord through him. One of our great needs is for discernment. In this article Jensen alerts us to a false way of reading the Gospel accounts. --Bill

The Image of Jesus?

Posted by Phillip Jensen on Oct 31 2008 at 2:35 PM

Recently a pew sheet from a suburban church said:

"Today's Gospel passage portrays a very human Jesus - a Jesus who in at first rejecting so rudely the pleas of the Canaanite woman for healing for her daughter reveals the prejudices the conservative Judaism of his time. No doubt learned implicitly as part of his upbringing in family and village community. A Jesus who needs to learn to see things differently; to broaden his understanding of the scope of God's compassionate love. When you stop to think about it, it is quite remarkable that it is a woman, and a Gentile at that who challenges Jesus to get him to change his mind! It flies in the face of all the norms of patriarchal, Jewish culture. This nameless woman, with her wit, it might be said teaches Jesus to see her and his mission in a different light and he is open to so changing. His is not the rigidity of one who assumes they know it all and have nothing new to learn or understand, but rather the openness that comes with a gentle and compassionate heart."


At first glance most Christians would dismiss this as blasphemous. The idea that Jesus was controlled by the immoral unjust prejudices of his age and culture, that he did not understand the compassionate love of God and that he needed a Canaanite woman to teach him the ways of God, is an attack on the incarnate Son of God.

But it is important to get past that visceral reaction and weigh what is being said. Orthodoxy must be an expression of the Bible. The Bible must not be squeezed into our orthodoxy. So our reaction should not defend orthodoxy but ask what does the gospel passage reveal to us about the real Jesus?

Does this pew sheet's portrayal of "a very human Jesus" do justice to the gospel account? We need to remember that Jesus was fully human. He lived in time and space, in a particular culture and family. He spoke the language of the day and lived in society in such a way that drew very little attention to his divinity. His physical appearance, diet, clothing were never commented upon as different to anybody else in the culture of his time.

We are taught in the Scriptures that Jesus came into the world as a baby not a man. He needed to grow and learn. He did not arrive in the world with a full and complete divine knowledge of all things. But as Luke records "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

Furthermore, even as an adult, Jesus did not claim to know everything. So in Mark 13:32 we read: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." And if God himself changes his mind in the Old Testament could not the Son of God change his mind?

The episode with the Canaanite woman may seem unusual. Jesus seems a little off-handed if not rude in his response. The event may alter our preconceptions about Jesus and how he relates to people.

But that is just the problem with the pew sheet's view. Instead of altering his view of Jesus to fit in with the real one, the author has altered Jesus to fit into his view. Not the view of orthodox Christianity but the view of liberal and feminist Christianity.

Jesus was human but that does not mean that he was a sinful, mindless and uncritical proponent of an evil culture. His humanity did not include sinfulness. His capacity to see through the culture of his day, to criticise it publicly and to live quite differently is recorded on most pages of the gospel. In particular, his understanding of God his father was extraordinary, even from his childhood (Luke 2:49). We cannot know precisely what Jesus did or did not know but it is hard to believe that he was in any way short in the subject of the compassion of this father's love. It was after all his father's love that brought him to earth.

But was Jesus' view of his mission too narrow? Was his mindset governed by the implicitly learned prejudices of the conservative Judaism of his day? Did Jesus need somebody, on this occasion a Gentile woman, to teach him?

From the arrival of the wise men from the East, Matthew makes the inclusion of the Gentiles, part of the gospel message. At least from his baptism Jesus knew that he was the servant of the Lord prophesied in Isaiah (Isaiah 42-53). That prophecy includes more than Israel - it includes the Gentiles i.e. the nations.

In the healing of the Centurion's servant in Matthew 8, Jesus comments that the Kingdom includes Gentiles. Like the Canaanite woman, the Centurion does not accept Jesus' initial response but reasons with him. This dialogue enables Jesus to point out not only the inclusion of the Gentiles but also the saving faith of a Gentile in contrast to the lack of faith amongst the Israelites. If this happens back in chapter 8, the Canaanite woman is not changing Jesus' mind in chapter 15.

Rather we see in the event of the Canaanite woman, one of the characteristic ways of Jesus relating to inquirers. He responds to them with almost strange indifference to draw them out and demonstrate both to them and to the disciples some great truth that clarifies his mission. It can be seen in Jesus' frequent meeting of questions with questions (e.g. Luke 10:26), or in his treatment of Nicodemus in John 3, or his response to the Greeks in John 12, or to the disciples' request about food in Matthew 14:15, as well as the Canaanite woman's request in Matthew 15.

It is not Jesus who needs to widen his vision and learn from the Canaanite woman. It is the disciples who need to understand his worldwide mission and the faith that saves. Jesus uses these interactions to teach and push the boundaries of other peoples' understanding.

To present Jesus as the non-rigid open inquirer of truth is to make a Jesus in the image of a modern liberal thinker. It is important that Christians are made in the image of Jesus rather than Jesus made in the image of us.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Sola Panel | Reformation Day

Reformation Day is tomorrow. Here are some resources from The Sola Panel:

The Sola Panel Reformation Day

Posted using ShareThis

Principles for Voting --- A Post from R. C. Sproul

Principles for Voting

October 29, 2008 @ 7:30 AM Posted By: Chris Larson

by R.C. Sproul

In Acts 14, Luke sets forth for us the events that took place on Paul's first missionary journey, a journey on which Barnabas accompanied him. We've seen this pattern emerge over and over again. The apostles would come into the synagogue or the public square known as the agora. They would proclaim the gospel openly. And there would always be some people who responded in faith by the power of the Holy Ghost while others in attendance would stand up in outright hostility and oppose them. Indeed, it was through great tribulation that the gospel bore fruit in places like Antioch and Iconium. And everyday Paul and Barnabas were subjected to threats, insults, hostility and even physical danger. We can see how things degenerated to such a degree here in the latter part of chapter fourteen: the Jewish leadership actually convenes a kangaroo court and imposes the death penalty upon Paul! A rioting mob is gathered and begins to throw stones at Paul with deadly force. Paul is knocked down by the repeated blows to the face, arms, torso, and head. His would-be executors then drag him out of the city, leaving him for dead.

Now ladies and gentlemen we can't read that and say, "Ho-hum, isn't that interesting?" Passages like this speak to the truthfulness of the adage "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." These sorts of things happened to a multitude of Christians who did not recover as swiftly as Paul did on this occasion. Indeed, many in the Christian community of the first century became human torches in the gardens of Nero. Others were thrown into the arena to go against professional gladiators, or to be fed to the lions while crazed emperors and a depraved public watched the spectacle with perverted glee. That's our history as Christians. And down through the ages every time the gospel has been preached openly in the public square, it has been met with some degree of hostility, violence and persecution. And no doubt such things continue in our day in various pockets of the world.

Now one of the things that I think about in terms of my own ministry is why I've never been cast into jail. Why has no one ever thrown a stone at me because of the boldness by which I preach the gospel? Well, I preach it in a safe zone, I suppose--a zone that has been declared something of a reservation. The church has been banished in our day from the public square, and a deal has been made. The deal goes something like this: If we confine our preaching and teaching to spiritual matters (matters of the world to come) and keep our mouths shut about what's going on all around us in the culture in which we live, then we will be protected by the powers that be. But if we venture off the reservation and intrude our opinions into the public square, then we will feel the full measure of the wrath of the culture and indeed of the government itself.

That government today perpetuates a myth which is totally ungrounded in American history. This myth is articulated every day under the rubric of the "separation of church and state". But I defy anybody in this room or in this nation to find such a concept anywhere in the Constitution of the United States of America or in the Declaration of Independence. The phrase originated in some private correspondence from the pen of Thomas Jefferson where he spoke of erecting a wall of separation but it never become part of the fabric of the law of this land historically. And I say today in our age that the concept of the separation of state and church that even Jefferson had in view in the 18th century has also been changed dramatically in its public understanding. What was meant in the 18th century even in the informal way in which Jefferson spoke of it was the division of labor between the church and the state. In other words, it is not the state's responsibility to do the ministry of the church and it is not the state's responsibility to preach the gospel or to administer the sacrament. Those duties have been given to the church that God ordained and to the Christian ministers whom God has called and appointed. But on the other side of the coin God also instituted government for the safety and well being of the people who live in its midst. And the government has been assigned by God the responsibility of preserving, protecting and maintaining the sanctity of human life. The government has been ordained by God to protect those areas of life in the realm of common grace--blessings that God gives to all people--not just Jews or Christians or any other group. I'm referring to blessings such as the sanctity of marriage. That's why the church recognizes marriages that take place in the secular world. But it is God who ordains the state and before whom the state is ultimately responsible and to Whom it will be held accountable at the end of the age for how it exercised its responsibility.

A few years ago I was invited to give the address at the inaugural breakfast of the newly elected governor of the state of Florida. And on that occasion I said to the governor elect, "Good sir, today is your ordination day. You have received your mandate to govern not from the will of the people, but from almighty God, who Himself establishes government and calls you His minister, not the minister of the church, but His minister as a guardian of the affairs of the state. And I remind you that you will be judged by Him in how you carry out your duties." But in our time the separation of church and state has come to mean the separation of the state from God. It is one thing to say the state is not accountable to the church, it's another thing to say the state is not accountable to God. And when the state assumes its autonomy and declares its independence from Almighty God it is not just the right but the duty of the church to call the state to task: Not to ask the state to be the church, but to tell the state to be the state under God.

And that has been the task of the church throughout the ages, throughout the pages of the Old Testament and into the New. I know there are people in Christendom who believe that the church should never say anything about the public square or what happens in the political realm. But given our biblical history I wonder how anybody can come to that conclusion. You read the pages of the Old Testament and you read the history of the prophets. You see a king like Ahab using the power of his secular authority to confiscate the personal private property of neighbors. And nobody says a word until Elijah risks his life to declare it unjust and call him to task. Isaiah was raised and anointed to go into the palace and speak to king after king after king, bringing God's criticism to the nation. Amos was the one who cried in the marketplace "let justice roll down like an ever-flowing stream." And for calling the culture of their day to righteousness every one of those prophets faced hostility, bodily harm, and death. Why was John the Baptist beheaded? Because he called attention to the immorality of the king, and the unjustness and illicit basis of his marriage. Jesus criticized Herod as well, calling him a fox. And when He called the nation of Israel to righteousness, corrected the Sanhedrin, and criticized the leading authorities and their corrupt practices, He was arrested and executed. He was not executed because he said, "Consider the lilies, how they spin." He was executed because He said, "Consider the thieves, how they steal."

Jesus took His message to the public square. But Uncle Sam has cut a deal with us, and here's the deal: They'll give you and I a tax exemption whereby we can deduct from our income taxes our tithes and offerings that we give to the church. But on one condition: that we not speak out on the political issues in our day. Ladies and Gentlemen that's a compromise that the church can never afford to make. I'm not allowed by law at this point to tell you who to vote for on Tuesday, to recommend or endorse a particular candidate, and I'm going to obey that law because I'm called to obey the civil magistrates even when I disagree with those civil magistrates. But at the same time I'm going to protest against that condition and say to the church if it means that we have to give up our tax deductions so be it. Because we shouldn't be giving our donations and charitable gifts to the church just so we can get a tax write-off. Our responsibility to tithe to the Kingdom of God is there whether we receive any benefit from the secular government or not. Surely we must all understand that. And I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you some things you should be concerned about when you go to the voting booth this week.

But here is what I'm going to tell you to do when you vote. As a Christian you have obligations opposed upon your conscience that in some sense other people don't have, although they should have. And the first thing is this: You have to understand what a vote is. The word vote comes from the Latin votum, which means 'will' or choice. And when you go to the ballot box and you vote, you are not there to vote for what's going to benefit you necessarily. Your vote is not a license to impose your selfish desires upon the rest of the country. You only have the right to vote for what is right. And not only do you have the right to vote for what is right, but when you vote you have the duty to vote for what is right.

I'm reminded of the work of William Wilberforce in England. You may recall that in debate after debate after debate, and in election after election after election, Wilberforce was soundly and roundly defeated when he sought the abolition of slavery in the British Commonwealth. But if ever there was an exercise in perseverance, it was by Wilberforce. Wilberforce refused to give up. He simply would not walk away from being the conscience of the English nation. And he publicly testified that slavery was wrong and he promised to oppose it as long as he had breath in his body. And finally in the providence of God, Parliament woke up and abolished this unethical practice that was a plague on the English speaking world.

We've gone through the same plague in the history of America, and thanks be to God slavery has finally been abolished in America. But I believe that slavery is the second most serious ethical issue that our country has ever faced. From my perspective the number one ethical issue that this nation has ever faced is the issue of abortion. Abortion is not a matter of private choice--not for the Christian who understands anything about the sanctity of life. The first century church made it very clear in their day, explicitly stating that abortion is murder.

I've written over 70 books. The book that had the shortest shelf life of all of my books was my book on the case against abortion. I talked to pastor after pastor and sought to understand why they weren't using this material (for which we also made a video series). They told me, "Well, we agree with it but we can't do it in our church." And I said, "Why?" They responded: "It will split the congregation." And I said, "So be it!" A million and a half unborn babies are slaughtered wantonly in the United States of America every year in the name of women's rights. If I know anything about the character of God after forty years of study, I know that God hates abortion. And I could never vote for a candidate who supported abortion--even if I agreed with that candidate on every other policy position. If he supported abortion I would not vote for him and I urge you to do the same.

I know that abortion is not the number one issue in this campaign because it has become acceptable. Just like slavery became acceptable. But it cannot be acceptable to ethical people. The people of God have to rise up and say 'NO'! We are not asking the state to be the church but we must say to the state, "Please be the state. God ordained you to protect, maintain, and preserve the sanctity of life, and you are not doing it." So that has to be on your mind when you walk into that voting booth. And a second ethical issue that you need to keep in mind before you vote is this: Don't be a lobby group of one. This week I read in the Sentinel that they did a pole of athletes, asking them for whom they were going to vote. And one said it straight out. He said "I'm going to vote for the one who's going to give the most money away." How many times have you heard the phrase 'I'm going to vote my pocketbook'? I'm going to go to the trough of the public and drink as deeply as I can. Alexis de Tocqueville, when he came and examined the great American experiment of democracy, said two things can destroy this experiment: One is when people learn that their vote is worth money, that you can bribe people to get their vote or that you can use the vote to somehow shelter yourself from financial or other obligations imposed upon others. Have we taken the blindfold away from lady justice? Are we not all equal under the law? On the contrary, we have an income tax structure today that is inherently unjust. We almost never hear anybody discuss this injustice. But when God set up a system of taxation, He did things differently. God said I'm going to impose a tax on my people and it's going to be ten percent from everybody: The rich man and the poor man are not going to pay the same amount. The rich man's going to pay much more than the poor man, but they're both going to pay the same percentage. They're both going to have the same responsibility. That way the rich man can't use his power to exploit the poor man, saying, "I'm going to pay five percent, but you're going to pay fifty percent." The rich weren't allowed to do that. Nor were the poor allowed to say, "We're going to pay five percent and the rich are going to pay fifty percent because they can afford it." What that is ladies and gentlemen is the politics of envy that legalizes theft. Anytime you vote a tax on somebody else that is not a tax on yourself, you're stealing from your brother. And though the whole world does it and though it's common practice in the United States of America, a Christian shouldn't be caught dead voting to fill his own pocketbook at the expense of someone else. Isn't that plain? Isn't that clear? And until we get some kind of flat tax, we're going to have a politicized economy, we're going to have class warfare, and we're going to have the whole nation's rule being determined by the rush for economic advantage at the polls. Don't do it. Even if that means sacrificing some benefit you might receive from the federal government. Don't ask other people at the point of a gun to give you from their pockets what you don't have. That's sin.

It is, of course, the American way. But we Christians should not be involved in that sort of thing. Rather we should be voting for what is right, what is ethical. And our consciences on that score need to be informed by the Word of God, not by our wallets. And so I plead with you: When you enter the voting booth, don't leave your Christianity in the parking lot. And be bold to speak on these issues, even if it means somebody picks up a rock and throws it in your head. Because it is through tribulation that we enter the Kingdom of God. I pray for you, beloved, and for our nation in these days to come.

Good and Bad Tradition

I found this excellent quote from the church father Cyprian at the site called Dead Theologians:

"Custom without truth is the antiquity of error. [“Consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est.”] On which account, let us forsake the error and follow the truth."- Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258 A.D.) (Epistle 73.9)

"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you"

Martyrdom for Christ is a reality in our world. Recently, I read of a Somali Christian who was beheaded because of his faith. Here is the story: http://compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=breaking&lang=en&length=long&idelement=5661

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I thought this post from Glen Scorgie makes a great point. It is a point in accord with Jesus' words from Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Although we may have passionate disagreements over politics as worldviews conflict, a Christian should be careful to not resort to the kind of intimidation Scorgie describes in this article. Instead, we should try to imitate our heavenly Father, whose goodness blesses both the just and the unjust (Mat. 5:45). --Bill


The Politics of Intimidation

When the fish die you know there’s something wrong with the water. When the bees disappear, it means the ecosystem is in trouble. When it’s the height of the election season, and there are hardly any signs on neighborhood lawns, you begin to suspect that something may be amiss this time around. The truth is that there aren’t many lawn signs or bumper stickers. My theory is that American citizens no longer feel safe about taking a public stand one way or the other. That’s because we’re witnessing the rise of the politics of intimidation.

Here’s a local case in point. Local San Diego businessman Douglas Manchester owns the Manchester Grand Hyatt, a huge downtown hotel next to the Convention Center. It came out in the news awhile back that he had made a major donation to the Vote Yes on Prop 8 campaign, which is a campaign to define marriage in the California constitution as an exclusively heterosexual union. Obviously not everyone in California will agree with Mr. Manchester’s position, but presumably he has every legal right to hold and promote his convictions in a free society like ours.

Immediately advocates of gay marriage began protesting in front of his hotel in a strong and persistent manner. The result has been an ongoing and undetermined loss of business for the hotel. As the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper has pointed out, this sent an intimidating message to any other local businesses that might consider supporting the Vote Yes on Prop 8 campaign.

The American Educational Research Association, a vast organization of scholars in the field of education, will be holding its annual convention in San Diego next March, long after the November ballot. This week they sent out a memo to their entire membership, explaining how hard they were trying to avoid using Mr. Manchester’s hotel for any of their needs. The rationale they offered was that the AERA is committed to diversity, and not to support gay marriage is implicitly intolerant. The memo expresses the AERA’s regret that the private actions of Mr. Manchester have “had such a wrenching effect on the lives of our GLBT members (and all members).”

This is what I mean by the politics of intimidation. If someone disagrees with you on a political issue, your strategy is to bankrupt them.

This is the problem in a nutshell. Democracy only works when every citizen knows that it is safe to express and advocate their convictions without being afraid of retaliatory actions and punishment. No wonder so many people are afraid to be honest these days even with pollsters.
I wish I could say that the other side has been squeaky clean. But just this morning the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that leaders of the campaign to outlaw same-sex marriages in California have been writing to businesses known to have donated to Equality California, the nonprofit organization helping lead the campaign against Proposition 8. In these letters they threaten to publicly identify such organizations unless—and here it begins to look like extortion—unless these businesses make comparably sized financial donations to the Vote Yes on Prop 8 campaign. This is just ugly.

Christians should be the first to protest against such strong-arm abuses from either side. We believe that every human being is an image-bearer of God, and part of being in the image of God is having the right to make free and unforced decisions and choices. Jesus stood for liberty, and his followers should be vigilant to protect it as well.

When the Christian Yellow Pages comes to my door, encouraging me to show favoritism toward fellow Christians in my business dealings, I throw it in the trash. My plumber is a Mormon, and he deserves my business because he does a good job at a fair price. Whether he is a Mormon, an evangelical Christian, a gay-rights advocate, or a Muslim is irrelevant. Let’s keep America a place where we respect the rights of all citizens to hold views with which we disagree. The survival of democracy requires this from all of us.

The Molecule of True Faith


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


21 Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction
that everything God reveals in his Word is true;
it is also a deep-rooted assurance,
created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel,
that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,
not only others, but I too,
have had my sins forgiven,
have been made forever right with God,
and have been granted salvation.

2) Scripture

Romans 3:28: For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Comment:

The definition of faith is important, because faith connects us to Jesus Christ. And, since it is only through our union with Christ that we are saved, it is easy to see why faith is so important. Without true faith, we cannot be grafted into Christ. In other words, without true faith, we do not belong to Christ.

Q&A 21 tells us that there are three elements to true faith. Just as molecules are made up of elements, so true faith is made up of three elements. These three elements are:

  • knowledge
  • conviction
  • assurance

First, we need some knowledge about Jesus’ person and work. We need to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and Lord. We need to understand that he died for our sins, was buried, and rose bodily from the grave. In order to be saved we need to have a basic knowledge about Jesus---about the gospel.

Second, we need the conviction that what we know about Jesus is true. In other words, we need to be convinced Jesus truly is the Christ prophesied about in the Old Testament. We need to be convinced he is God’s eternal Son. We need to be convinced he really died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thus, we need to know about Jesus, and be convinced that what we know about him is true.

But if we stopped at this point, we wouldn’t yet have true faith. Even demons know the facts about Jesus. The book of James says that the demons are even convinced of the truth about Jesus! James 2:19 says that the demons believe and are so convinced of the truth that they tremble in fear! No, for our molecule of true faith we need all three elements, and the last element is assurance.

Third, then, we need the assurance that what Jesus did, he did for me. I must personally trust that Jesus Christ is my Lord, my God, and my Savior. Do you have this personal assurance that what the Son of God did in his death and resurrection, he did for you?


Discussion: Why is it important to define faith correctly? How is faith like a molecule? What
three elements do we need for true faith? Can you describe what we need to know? Can you
describe what we need to be convinced of? What kind of faith do demons have? Which
element do demons not have?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord for working faith in your heart, and for your union with Jesus
Christ. Pray for family members in your prayer. If there are sick people in your family or church, remember them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Pattern of Prayer by R.C. Sproul from the Ligonier Blog

The Pattern of Prayer (pt. 1)

September 25, 2008 @ 6:10 PM Posted By: Tim Challies

by R.C. Sproul

Jesus performed many miracles. During the course of his ministry, he walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick, raised the dead. As John said, "There are also many other things that Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

I have always been amazed that the disciples didn't ask Jesus how to walk on water, how to still the tempest, or how to do any of his other miracles. They did, however, ask Jesus to teach them about prayer. Note that they did not ask Jesus to teach them how to pray; instead they begged, "Teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). I'm certain that the disciples clearly saw the inseparable relationship between the power Jesus manifested and the hours he spent in solitude, conversing with his Father.


The instruction Jesus gives regarding prayer comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount, found in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Jesus prefaces his remarks on the pattern for prayer with these words:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this . . . (Matthew 6:5-9)

Notice that Jesus says, "Pray this way," not "Pray this prayer" or "Pray these words." There is some question as to whether Jesus ever meant for us to repeat the prayer. I'm not attacking the use of the Lord's Prayer; there's certainly nothing wrong with its use in the personal life of the believer or the devotional life of the church. Yet Jesus was not so much giving us a prayer to recite as a pattern to show us the way in which to pray. Jesus was providing us with an outline of priorities or those things that ought to be priorities in our prayer life. Let's look at the sections of the Lord's Prayer one at a time.

Our Father

The first two words of the prayer are radical as used in the New Testament. The word Father was not the basic form of address for God found in the Old Covenant community. His name was ineffable; he was not to be addressed with any degree of intimacy. Seldom was the term Father used to speak of God in the Old Testament. Of all the terms used to address God in prayer by the Old Covenant community, Father is not among them. But here, in the New Testament, Jesus brings us into an intimate relationship with the Father, breaking down the partition symbolized by the veil in the temple. Now Jesus gives us the incomparable privilege of calling God "Father."

Jesus was the first on record to take prayer and make it a personal discourse with God. Jesus, who spoke Aramaic, used the Aramaic word Abba, best translated "Dad" or "Papa." We can almost hear the cry of alarm from the disciples and see the looks of astonishment on their faces: "You don't mean it, Jesus. You can't be serious! We're not even allowed to speak the name of God aloud. We don't even call him Father, much less Dad!"

Ironically today we live in a world that assumes God is the Father of everyone, that all men are brothers. We hear this in the cliché "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." But nowhere in Scripture does it say that all men are brothers. It does say, however, that all men are my neighbors.

There is a restricted sense in which God is the Father of all men as the giver and sustainer of life, the progenitor par excellence of the human race. But nothing in the Bible indicates that an individual may approach God in a familiar sense. The only exception is when that person has been adopted into God's family, having expressed saving faith in the atonement of Christ and having submitted to his lordship. Then and only then is one afforded the privilege of calling God his Father. To those who have received him, God "gave the right [authority, privilege] to become children of God" (John 1:12, NIV). Only then does God call men "sons." The Greek word exousia translated "right to become" denotes the freedom to act and the authority for that action. Calling God "Father" without the proper credentials of sonship is an act of extreme presumption and arrogance.

We don't find the idea of universal fatherhood and brotherhood in the introduction to the Lord's Prayer. This cultural tacit assumption causes us to miss what Jesus is saying. In the first place, the fatherhood of God cannot be taken for granted by anyone in the world. Jesus is the one person with the ultimate right to address God in this way, for Jesus alone is the monogenes, "the only begotten of the Father," having existed from all eternity in a unique filial relationship with the Father.

If there is a universal fatherhood and brotherhood in any sense whatsoever, it would have to be in the context of Jesus' discussion with the Pharisees in John 8. The Pharisees were claiming to be children of Abraham, offspring of God by ancestral association. Jesus challenges them on this point, saying "If you were Abraham's children, you would do what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth which I heard from God; this is not what Abraham did. . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires" (8:39-40, 44).

There is a clear distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil. God's children hear his voice and obey him. The children of the devil do not listen to God's voice; they disobey him by doing the will of their father, Satan. There are only two families, and everyone belongs to one or the other. Both groups have one thing in common, however. The members of each family do the will of their respective fathers, whether it be God or Satan.

If we go through the New Testament, making inquiry as to who are the sons of God, the answer is clear. The New Testament is neither vague nor enigmatic on this point. Romans 8:14-17 says this:

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. (NIV)

In verse 14 of this passage, the pronoun those, autoi in the Greek, is in what is called the emphatic form to indicate an exclusiveness. The verse is best translated, "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these alone are the sons of God" or "these only are the sons of God." Paul teaches that it is only by the Holy Spirit that we can call God our Father. The significance of this in the New Testament is that we are sons, not illegitimate children, because we are in union with Christ. Our sonship is not automatic, not inherited; it is not a genetic necessity, but rather it is derived. The New Testament word for this transaction is adoption. Because of our adoptive relationship with God through Christ, we become joint heirs with Christ.

It is only because we are in Christ and Christ is in us that we have the privilege of addressing God as our Father and of approaching him in a filial relationship. Martin Luther once said that if he could just understand the first two words of the Lord's Prayer, he would never be the same again.

The word our signifies that the right to call God "Father" is not mine alone. It is a corporate privilege belonging to the entire body of Christ. When I pray, I do not come before God as an isolated individual, but as a member of a family, a community of saints.

*****
This is part three of R.C. Sproul's small book
Does Prayer Change Things?

Follow the Leader and Family Trees

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

20 Q. Are all saved through Christ just as all were lost through Adam?

A. No. Only those are saved who by true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all his
blessings.

2) Scripture

Isaiah 53:6: We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Comment:

Sheep have a funny trait. They tend to follow the leader. If one sheep starts off in a direction, all of the sheep tend to follow.

Isaiah 53:6 compares people to sheep. We have all gone astray from the Lord. Adam was the lead sheep, and in him we sinned and went astray.

Because of Adam’s sin, even little babies are born with a bias toward sin and self-will, which takes us away from the Lord. Unless the Spirit of God directs us back to the Lord, we will keep following our sinful leader, Adam.

Every human being has turned away from the Lord and “turned to his own way.” We have all followed Adam in his sin. Q&A 20 teaches us that all people “were lost through Adam.” We all played follow the leader and went astray from the Lord.

But God in his grace sent his Son to bring us back to himself. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who brings lost sinners back to his Father. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. In Luke 19:10, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus is our new leader, our new Adam, who brings us back into a right relationship with God!

But notice that the catechism says that in order to be saved, we must be “grafted into Christ” “by true faith.” By birth, the human race is lost in Adam. In order to be saved we have to move from the family tree of Adam into the family tree of Jesus Christ.

The way to become a part of the family tree of Jesus is by true faith. We enter the family of God by believing /receiving/welcoming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior into our lives. As John 1:12 says: “But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Discussion: Why does Isaiah 53:6 compare people to sheep? In what ways is Adam like the lead sheep, whom the whole human race has followed? Who gathers people who have strayed from God, so that they might be in a right relationship to him?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Father for sending his Son so that we might be able to return to him. Pray for someone whom you know needs to return to the Lord. Ask Jesus to seek him or her, for his glory and his or her blessing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Sola Panel | A visit to Hillsong

The Sola Panel A visit to Hillsong

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A God/Christ Centered Focus in Congregational Singing

John Fonville in the Gospel Driven Blog points to “the God/Christ centered nature of the gospel and the Scriptures.” He rightly points to the self-centeredness that often characterizes our approach to the Bible (see his post below).

This started me thinking about how we tend to have this same self-centered approach in worship too! Let me give you an example from my own experience last Sunday at the church I attend.

One song we sang was called, Lord, I Give You My Heart. I didn’t know this until writing this post, but this song comes from the Charismatic oriented church in Australia known as Hillsong. Here are the words:

"This is my desire: to honor You.
Lord with all my heart I worship You.
All I have within me, I give You praise.
All that I adore is in You.

Lord I give You my heart,
I give You my soul, I live for You alone.
Every breath that I take,
Every moment I'm awake,
Lord have Your way in me."

We repeated these words about three times, and as I sang I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable with the words. While I agree that offering our bodies to the Lord in response to God’s mercy is truly worship (Romans 12:1), where in this song does it speak of God’s mercy? Singing a song in which almost every sentence “I” is the subject, seems somehow inappropriate for Christian worship.

The next song we sang, however, was much better. It was the familiar song, Fairest Lord Jesus:

"Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration,
now and forevermore be thine."


Notice how the subject throughout this song is the Lord Jesus Christ. Although I still declare my devotion to him in this song, the grammar keeps Christ as the subject. The song also tells me about Jesus---who he is and what he has done. It is much truer to the New Testament’s definition of worship in Romans 12:1:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Here the Lord defines worship. First, spiritual worship presents “the mercies of God.” Second, spiritual worship responds to that mercy as we offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice.”

If we must sing a song like Lord, I Give You My Heart in our corporate singing, it would be good to preface such a song with a song that tells us the good news of God’s mercy in Christ. This would prime the pump of our hearts to sing a song of self-offering. Unfortunately, in the gathering I was at last Sunday, this song was sung without much of a preface of God’s mercy.

I also wonder, if when we sing songs that are so me-centered, we inhibit congregational singing? The fact is, the congregation I was with Sunday sang Fairest Lord Jesus robustly, while it sang Lord, I Give You My Heart rather half-heartedly. Could this half-hearted singing stem from an uneasy Christian conscience that instinctively knows there should be a God/Christ centered focus in our songs, and a self-effacement in our singing?

Why We Study the Bible and How to Study the Bible

Here is a part of a post from the Gospel Driven Blog. It deals with two questions: Why we study the Bible? and How to study the Bible? Both answers are very good.



“Why?”


First, Bible study is not simply to increase one’s knowledge but rather to increase one’s affection for God!


Paul’s spontaneous doxology in Galatians 1:5 demonstrates that the gospel was not just a theological idea. Paul was profoundly aware that he was a sinner for whom Christ died (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15). He understood firsthand what it was like to be held in bondage to sin and the shackles of legalism (cf. Philip. 3:4-6). This is why he affectionately speaks of Christ in Galatians 2:20 as one “who loved me and gave himself for me.”


Timothy George writes,


“To contemplate who God is and what he has done in Jesus Christ is to fall on our knees in worship, thanksgiving, and praise. We study the Bible and the great doctrines of the Christian faith not out of vain curiosity, nor merely to increase our intellectual acumen and historical knowledge but rather that we might come more fully to love and enjoy the gracious God who delights in our praise. As Calvin put it so well, ‘So glorious is his redemption that it should ravish us with wonder,’” (Galatians, p. 88).


“How?”


The first question one should ask when studying the Bible is, “What does this tell me about God?”


In the quest for “relevance,” and “application”, I often hear believers insist on asking questions such as, “What is this passage saying to me?” “How does this passage apply to my daily life?” “How can it help me in my daily walk?” “What does it mean to me as I seek to apply it to my life?”


Me, me, me, my, my, my! Quite frankly, this oft repeated refrain becomes quite wearisome. It fails to recognize the profound God/Christ-centered focus of the Gospel and the Scriptures.
In Luke 24:27, Luke writes, “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (emphasis mine).


A gospel-driven life begins to reorient one’s approach to Bible study. Instead of coming to the Scriptures with a self-centered focus, seeking to find out how the Bible “applies to me,” one should approach the Bible with a God/Christ-centered focus, seeking first to discover what the Bible tells him about God.


Vaughan Roberts writes, “Sometimes we miss the point by asking too quickly, ‘What is it saying to me?’ A good first question to ask whenever we look at a passage is, ‘What does this tell me about God?’ Very often the application for us will then be obvious. The Bible is, above all, a book about God,” (God’s Big Picture, p. 65).


Vaughan, with a God/Christ-centered focus in view, concludes his book with the following three propositions, which help govern the how and why of Bible study:


  • Knowing Christ in all the Scriptures. All the Scriptures contribute and point to Jesus Christ and God’s plan to establish His kingdom through Him.

  • Teaching Christ from all the Scriptures. With the “big picture” of Scripture in view, one should point people to Christ from any part of it, rather than just a few favorite passages.

  • Loving Christ through all the Scriptures. “It would be a terrible thing if a deeper knowledge of the Bible affected only our heads and not our hearts. The Bible is a relational book, which the Holy Spirit uses to help us grow in the knowledge and love of God through Jesus Christ,” (pp. 153-154).

Consider the Lord's Power

The Herodium


Search the Scriptures

Study 12 --- 1 Samuel 14

1 Samuel 14:6: “Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.’”

Comment:

In today’s reading from 1 Samuel 14 there is a contrast between the faith of Jonathan and the unbelief of his father, Saul. I want to focus on just one element of Jonathan’s faith, namely, Jonathan’s belief in the Lord’s power.

Jonathan had a good sense of the Lord’s power. He knew the Lord could save by many or few. He knew the Lord’s power was such that a great army was not needed to defeat the Philistines. As it turned out, this is exactly what happened in 1 Samuel 14. The Lord defeated the Philistines by creating such confusion among them that they fought one another!

Belief in the Lord’s power is a key element in our faith. Jonathan’s faith was bolstered as he considered the Lord’s power to save by many or few. On the other hand, unbelief does not take into consideration the power of God.
In Matthew 22, Jesus debates the Saducees. The Saducees did not believe in the resurrection. What was the reason for the Saducees’ unbelief? According to Jesus it was because they knew “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

In Matthew 21, it is likely that Jesus and his disciples are on the road that goes from Bethany to Jerusalem. On this road one could see the Herodium. The Herodium was a fortress/palace king Herod built by moving one mountain to make an existing mountain even higher. It was on this higher mountain that the Herodium was built by king Herod. This was the context for Jesus’ words:
“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

If even a human king like Herod can move a mountain to build his Herodium, how much more can the King of kings do? We pray to Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who after his death was raised above all things in heaven and earth. He has defeated death, and reigns over all things.

Let us consider our God and our King’s power, and may such consideration strengthen our faith even as it strengthened Jonathan’s faith in 1 Samuel 14.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Post from Peter Jones and truthXchange on the Upcoming Election

Our Christian faith touches on every aspect of life, including politics. Surely, what we believe will influence the way we vote.

At the same time, there is a sense in which Christians should be careful not to place too much stock in politics. Our trust is in the Lord, not a political leader or party.

There are a couple of issues that are particularly troubling about the Democratic party in the United States from a Christian standpoint. The first of these is its pro-abortion stance.

As Christians we confess in the Apostles' Creed that our Lord Jesus Christ was "conceived by the Holy Sprit." Our Lord sanctified the womb for all time by his conception and development in the womb. But abortion is a profane act that defiles the holy place of the womb. For that reason, Christians must oppose abortion and oppose a political party that is pro-abortion.

Second, ever since the late 1960s in the United State there has been a kind of new age, anti-Christian move to a new, eastern spirituality. This move toward a new spirituality away from the triune God is nothing new. It is as old as the Fall in Genesis 3. This rebellion against God and his anointed one (the Christ) is described in Psalm 2"

"The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
'Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.'"

This movement away from the Lord toward eastern mysticism and new age spiritualities is seen much more among Democrats than Republicans. This new age spirituality is not tolerant of Christianity, but hostile, and this is one of the reasons for the vitriole in American politics at the present time.

The present candidate of the Democratic party sat under a social gospel form of teaching for the last 20 years. The problem with this is that the social gospel is no gospel at all, but a rejection of the true gospel of Christ's death for sin and resurrection to the right hand of God. The social gospel changes the context of the gospel from God's judgment and salvation from sin, to salvation from political oppression. By changing the context of the gospel, the gospel itself is distorted and changed. Thus, the social gospel is no gospel at all. The social gospel is another form of rebellion against Jesus Christ, the Father's anointed one, who reigns at his right hand.

If the Democrats win, as Christians we are still commanded to give them honor as our leaders and pray for the nation's welfare under their leadership, trusting that the true Leader over heaven and earth has a plan that he will bring to pass through the ascendancy of this new leadership. --Bill


What Are the Odds that Alinsky Will Win? Alinsky Who?

Article by Peter Jones

Oct 23, 2008

InsideOut 52:

What Are the Odds that Alinsky Will Win? Alinsky Who?

America may soon make a massive turn to the Left.

In my comments on the culture I have studiously avoided partisan politics, but sometimes politics and essential issues of cultural, moral and religious identity become inextricably intertwined. This is one of those times.

Behind the daily headlines, a worldview conflict is taking place. Two iconic images evoke the on-going and unresolved ideological conflict that began in the troubled Sixties. One is the image of the young John McCain at death's door in a Hanoi prison. The other is of "Weatherman" Bill Ayers, a radical opponent of the same war, recently pictured standing on a crumpled American flag. In the Sixties John McCain was bombing Vietnam; Ayers was bombing America.

Without raising the pros and cons of Vietnam, it is clear that two deeply conflicting worldviews, not just political programs, now vie for control of the most powerful political office in the world. McCain is a (not very convincing) spokesman for the long history of the Judeo-Christian worldview. His opponent, Barack Obama is a (not very forthcoming) contemporary proponent of the Sixties revolution, whose clearly-stated intention was to turn America on its head.

I agree with Colin Powell who said that an "African American president would be electrifying"-but not just any African American. Is Obama's undefined program to "change the world" mere political rhetoric, or a deep commitment to far left political and spiritual revolution?

One does not have to look far to give this undefined vision real content. For the last sixteen years, I have written about the world-changing program that was conceived in the Sixties—the real American Revolution.

Though Obama was only eight when Bill Ayers blew up the Pentagon, he has been bathed in Ayers' radical ideology. He worked for Ayers in Chicago for eight years, helping distribute $100 million dollars of the Woods Fund for educational programs. These programs did not promote better math and science but a radical political consciousness based on Ayers' revolutionary, Marxist, anti-Christian, pan-sexual, pro-abortion theories. Obama's laudable rejection of violence does not separate him from the ideas themselves. Many argue that his political career was launched in Ayers' living room. We do know for sure that for twenty years Obama heard Marxist liberation theology, in a Christianized version, from his "mentor," Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who is a very liberal minister, and a friend of Louis Farrakhan.

The real world-changer, however, is the Marxist philosopher, Saul Alinsky, perhaps the first ever Chicago "community organizer," who sought to create a backyard revolution in the inner city in the 1930s, under the noses of the white power structures. His book, Rules for Radicals, published in 1971, instructed the Sixties revolutionaries how to take power. The mass of people, he said, "must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future [my italics]." To bring this revolution "requires that the organizer work inside the system" to undermine it and to hide his true goals by any means necessary, including lying and subterfuge, for the sake of the greater goal of undermining the dominance of the white establishment.

How successful was Alinsky? A convinced disciple, Hillary Clinton wrote her honors thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky, and while she presents herself as middle of the road politician, one senses that her radical views are just below the surface. She worked for a Marxist law firm after graduating from Yale, adopted the goal of liberating children from their parents, engaged in channeling in the white House with Jean Houston, and headed the American delegation to the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, defending five genders.

Alinsky's teaching has influenced Barack Obama, who worked in Chicago with community organizer, Jerry Kellman, an Alinsky protégé. Obama speaks in generalities, appearing as a middle of the road politician while actually having the most radical voting record in the history of the Senate. Has he chosen, with the help of a compliant media, to hide his true goals of radical utopian socialism, interfaith religion and omni-gendered moral relativism? We shall have to wait and see (see the sobering letter from the America of AD 2012).

As an English citizen, I cannot vote in the USA, and politics is less important than the profound shifts in religious and moral convictions already taking place in Western culture. No matter who gets into the White House, the world is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith. We need to think clearly and speak with boldness about the real issues of truth, for the honor of King Jesus, for our true hope is founded upon the truth of Scripture: "kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations" (Psalm 22:28).

The Right Way to Read the Bible accoring to the Heidelberg Catechism

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

19 Q. How do you come to know this?

A. The holy gospel tells me. God himself began to reveal the gospel already in Paradise;

later, he proclaimed it by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and portrayed it by the
sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; finally, he fulfilled it through his own dear Son.

2) Scripture

Galatians 4:4-5: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Comment:

Finally, after all the preparations and promises, when everything was set and the time was just right, God sent his eternally, beloved Son into the world. Jesus came and fulfilled every Old Testament Scripture. This is why 2 Corinthians 1:20 speaks of Jesus and says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” He came to fulfill all of the promises of God in the Old Testament. When he returns he will fulfill any remaining promises that deal with the new paradise promised, that is, the new heaven and earth.

Jesus told us how to interpret the Bible. Sometimes people will say things like “that’s just your interpretation of the Bible.” But the truth is that Jesus tells us how to interpret or understand the meaning of the Bible. Just as Jesus is Lord over every part of life, so he is also Lord over how to understand the Bible!

So what does Jesus tell us about understanding or interpreting the Bible? He tells us the Bible is about him! He tells us the Old Testament is all about his suffering and his glory. In Luke 24:25-27 he says:

"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

Every part or section of the Old Testament is in some way related either to the suffering of Jesus or the glory of Jesus---either to his humbling himself to become a man to die in our place or his resurrection, ascension, and his coming again in glory. The Heidelberg Catechism is teaching us how to read the Bible in the Christ-centered way that Jesus himself taught us!

Discussion: How do the words promise and fulfillment point to the right way to understand the Bible? Why does it make sense for the Lord Jesus to tell us how to interpret the Bible? What two words in Luke 24:26 summarize Jesus’ ministry?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord for his Word, and for its fulfillment in Christ. Ask the Lord for
the help of his Spirit to better understanding the Christ-centered way we should handle it. Remember those in need in your prayers, along with your pastor, teachers, or missionaries who proclaim God’s Word.

The Sola Panel | Banking everything on God

The Sola Panel Banking everything on God

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What Is the Fear of God?

What is the fear of God? I thought this answer in Jean Williams' blog was quite helpful.

Don't you feel this is what we often lack today among American Christians? I know this is true of my own heart. According to Acts 9:31 healthy Christians live in both the fear of God and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. --Bill



But what exactly is the fear of God? I'd been thinking about this all week, and it seemed to me that it's just what it says: fear. We tend to try and get around it with words like "reverence" and "awe", which don't explain anything much, but Jesus is pretty clear: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body ... Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Luke 12:4-5). Of course, for us in Christ this is no longer a slavish fear, for we have found a safe refuge from the storm of God's anger.*

Here's how I explained the fear of God to the children: "Are you scared of your Daddy?" Some children: "Yes." "Does your Daddy love you?" All children: "Yes." "When are you scared of your Daddy?" "When I do the wrong thing." "Why?" "Because he might punish me." "Yes, that's right, and it's the same with God. He can punish us by sending us to hell, but we don't need to be scared if we believe in Jesus and live for him. So what's the fear of God?" One child: "It means being scared of what God can do." Pretty spot on, it seems to me!

Wisdom About Tradition and Worship from Phillip Jensen

I love the sound wisdom of Phillip Jensen. Although he sometimes deals with some Anglican issues that don't concern me, there are always things to learn and apply from his writings. --Bill


Traditions Old and New

Posted by Phillip Jensen on Oct 24 2008 at 1:03 PM

Being old it is neither right nor wrong. Being new is also neither right nor wrong. Therefore being either a conservative or a radical is silly. It is neither right nor wrong to want to preserve the past or explore the latest innovation.

Every change brings with it consequences, foreseen and unforeseen. What was a good innovation in one year can be a disastrous failure in another year. The reforms that address one problem can create ten other problems just as large. The failure to reform a problem can also create ten other problems just as large.

We are not sovereign over the future. We have to cast our bread upon the water and trust God in his sovereignty to bless our endeavours. Some changes are our attempts to obey, or sadly to disobey, God. We cannot expect him to bless our disobedience.

The kings of Judah often brought innovation into the religious practice of the nation. Generally they adopted the idolatry of the nations around them. This was in direct disobedience to God. Some kings obeyed God's word and removed the idols of their forefathers. God condemned the generations who accepted idolatry just as he blessed subsequent generations who destroyed their father's idols.

One piece of traditional home-grown idolatry was the worship of the serpent that Moses made in the wilderness. In 2 Kings 18:4 we read that Hezekiah "broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it." The divinely appointed symbol of salvation in Moses' day had become an idol of false worship in Hezekiah's day - it had to be destroyed.

In the Reformation the leaders of the day had to work out what to change and what to retain. With some things it was easy, because the need to change screamed out. But falling for the temptation to change everything led to some terrible follies and abuses.

It was the wisdom of Thomas Cranmer, which guided the Church of England through the Reformation changes. He did not accomplish all that he wanted to do. However, in 1549 he laid down some principles upon which he was working.

These were originally published as the Preface to, and as concluding notes of, his first Prayer Book. They can now be found at the front of the Book of Common Prayer as two short articles entitled "Concerning the Service of the Church" and "Of Ceremonies, why some be abolished and some retained."

Cranmer's basic principle was that everything should be done to please God by setting forth the Gospel of Christ in order to edify God's people. This is what church going is about. This is the core business of church.

From this basic principle he then wrote about human ceremonies - especially what to dispense and what to retain. In summary he said:


  1. The Bible must be consistently read in Church in a way that is clear, accurate, thorough and understandable.
  2. Everything must be understandable - so everything must be organised in a simple, uncomplicated way and conducted in the everyday language of the people.
  3. Ceremonies are to be minimised because of the nature of Christ's gospel. The gospel is not a ceremonial law like the Law of Moses. In the Gospel of Christ we serve God in the freedom of the Spirit.
  4. Remove all that is untrue, uncertain and vain superstition.
  5. Remove all things that darken and confound the people of God rather than enlighten them by declaring Christ's benefits for us.
  6. There are some human customs that are edifying and necessary to retain good order and discipline.
  7. Those customs that are retained are only customs and, unlike the scriptures, can be changed later.
  8. Not all customs started for good reasons but even those that did will over time degenerate and need to be changed. False customs that were originally winked at will grow into intolerable abuses.
  9. Those who would reform the church must seek to please God rather than to please either the conservatives or the radicals. They should not act on their own authority but seek to work with others. (For Cranmer this involved having a national church that acted uniformly.)
  10. Customs should not be universal and unchanging. Each nation or period of history should conduct church in the way that they see pleases God by building up his people into godly living without error or superstition.

As we constantly look to reforming ourselves, and our own congregational life, it is important to bear Cranmer's sage advice in mind.

There is no reason to retain or to dispense with some custom just because it is old - anymore than there is any reason to embrace something because it is new. What pleases God is that we put forward the Gospel of Jesus clearly so that His people can understand His ways and respond in obedient faith. We meet to build one another in the gospel and in so doing build the church.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Sermon from Joshua 2

Having been out of the pastoral ministry for a bit, it has been a while since I have written a sermon! Now that I am back in school, I was assigned to write a sermon as a part of a class. The assignment required us to tackle an ethical question. The ethical question in Joshua 2 is the issue of Rahab's lie. --Bill


Sermon Title: The Faith that Leads to Good Works and Good Words
Sermon Text: Joshua 2

Introduction

The most popular TV sitcom in the 1990s was Seinfeld. Seinfeld is still popular today, and is seen daily in reruns. One columnist said of Seinfeld, “The most obvious attribute of all four characters [in the show] is dishonesty. "They're all liars!" . . . They constantly lie, to strangers and to each other, without a second thought.”

In the 1990s lying also came to the forefront of our attention when our President lied to a grand jury, and eventually lost his license to practice law because of it. Now in the 2000s we live in an era that’s being called post-modern. The most striking thing about post-modernism is the loss of truth. We’re told that there is no longer such a thing as objective truth. Instead, truth is something each community and individual invents for himself. You have your truth and I have my truth, and that’s ok because there is no higher truth to which we may appeal.

It seems like we live in an age where truth has fallen on hard times. And yet, Pontius Pilate who lived 2000 years ago, seemed to share the spirit of our age when he cynically asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

One of the difficulties of our text is the question of truth. Rahab, the heroine of our passage, tells a big, fat lie, and instead of Scripture condemning her, Scripture commends her! The Lord praises Rahab in his Word. Our passage isn’t the least bit concerned with Rahab’s lie! The Lord himself does not condemn Rahab, but instead he saves her from the destruction of her native city of Jericho. There’s not even a hint in our passage that might suggest that Rahab’s lie was wrong.

The rest of the Bible praises also Rahab, first for her faith, and second, for her lie! Hebrews 11:31 praises Rahab’s faith saying, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Part of that friendly welcome was her lying which protected those spies!

James 2:25 goes even further and praises Rahab’s lie directly, saying, “Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” How did Rahab send the spies off by another way? Well, the answer is, she lied, and so James sees Rahab’s lie as a good work!

So this is an issue we want to consider in this sermon. When is it ever right to lie? And, why does the Bible not condemn Rahab’s lie?

Earlier we mentioned Pilate’s cynical view of truth. Pilate’s cynical view of the truth was occasioned when Jesus spoke to him of his kingdom in this way: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus Christ’s kingdom is founded on the truth. Rahab became a member of Christ’s kingdom, just as believers today belong to Christ’s kingdom. As members of his kingdom we receive Christ’s witness to the truth and are joined to Jesus who is the truth.

Main Proposition

So a bit later in the sermon we will look at this question of Rahab’s lie and the question of truth. But before we return to Rahab’s lie, we need to look at the main message of Joshua chapter 2. And the main truth we learn in this chapter is that true faith leads to good works and good words. True faith leads to good works and good words. May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ renew our minds and warm our hearts as we consider his holy Word today. Amen.

I. Faith’s Object

At the heart of Joshua 2 is Rahab’s confession. In verses 8-13 Rahab confesses the greatness and goodness of the Lord God of Israel.

Chapter Structure

Chapter two, according to Old Testament scholar, Dale Davis, is sort of like a sandwich. On the outside you have verses dealing with Joshua and the spies. Verse one deals with the sending of the spies. Verses 23 and 24 deal with the spies return to Joshua. Verses 2-7 deal with the arrival of the spies and the concern for their safety. Verses 15-21 deal with the departure of the spies and their safety.

But in the middle of the passage we have the main concern of the passage, which is Rahab’s confession. Just like when you make a sandwich, the meat is in the middle and the meat is the highlight of the sandwich, so in the same way Rahab’s confession is the main focus of Joshua chapter two.

The Content of Rahab’s Confession

If Rahab’s confession is the main focus of Joshua two, what is it about? What is Rahab’s confession about?

Well, her confession is about the Lord! Her confession is about the character and works of Jahweh, the Lord God of Israel!

Whenever we read the Bible we should look to see what it tells us about God. What is the Lord like? What is his character like? What are his attributes? What has he done?

Rahab points to five truths about the Lord God of Israel. First, she is convinced that the Lord will be victorious. Look at verse 9. She says, “I know that the Lord has given you the land.”

In other words, Rahab says, “I know that the Lord is victorious. He will win the war. Jericho, my city, will lose, because the Lord is the victor. The Lord is going to win the victory.” Rahab is convinced that Israel is on the winning side, because the Lord is on Israel’s side. It’s that simple. The Lord is victorious and his side is the winning side.

It’s a poor illustration, but suppose you had a peewee football team of ten year olds. But one of the teams got to have Adrian Peterson, the biggest, fastest NFL running back on its team. Well, you can be sure that Adrian Peterson’s team would win that game. No ten year old could tackle an NFL running back.

And that’s the way it is with the Lord. The Lord is all that’s needed to make a winning team. Whoever is on the Lord’s side is on the winning side. Rahab confesses that the Lord is victorious.

Second, Rahab confesses that the Lord is powerful. She says, “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.”

By his power, the Lord was able to defeat Egypt and the great power of Pharaoh. By his power, the Lord was able to defeat the Amorites and their two kings, Sihon and Og. By his power the Lord was able to control nature, drying up the Red Sea. Rahab knew that the Lord was powerful, and when he decided to devote a nation to destruction, then that was it for that nation. No nation’s power was a match for the Lord’s power --- that was Rahab’s confession.

Third, Rahab confessed that the Lord was sovereign. This means that she confessed that the Lord is king over all.

We see this in verse 11. She says, “For the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

When the Bible speaks of the heavens and the earth, it’s referring to the whole created universe. It’s referring to all things visible and invisible. Rahab is saying that no one is above the Lord. No king on earth is greater than the Lord. No principality or power in the spiritual realm is greater than the Lord. The Lord alone is God, and he rules over all things.

This is what we say also as Christians about the Lord Jesus Christ. We confess that he is Lord of lords and King of kings. We confess that the Father has raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, where he rules all things for the good of his people.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ rules over all things in heaven and on earth. Even at this very moment Jesus Christ is ruler over all things, including the things of this earth. That was Rahab’s confession as she confessed the Lord, and that’s our confession as we confess the Lord who came from heaven, taking to himself our human nature.

Fourth, Rahab confessed that the Lord knows all things. She calls on the Lord to be a witness in her agreement with the spies. She didn’t call on her own Canaanite gods. She didn’t call on the gods of her city Jericho. No, she called on the Lord to be the witness to the covenant she made with the spies.

The fact is that the Lord sees us, and that’s the reason we call on him to be a witness to our words and our truth telling. The Lord not only hears our words, but he sees our hearts. Our hearts lay entirely open and exposed before the One to whom we must all give account.

Fifth and finally, Rahab’s confession ends with a confession of the Lord’s kindness, mercy, and salvation. She asks that the Lord deal kindly with her and her family. She asks that the Lord save her and her family.

This confession of the Lord’s mercy is remarkable, for she knows that Jericho has been devoted to destruction just as Sihon and Og and the Amorites were devoted to destruction. And yet, she somehow believes that the Lord is merciful and will deal kindly with her and her family even though she lives in a city devoted to destruction.

II. Faith’s Definition

This leads us to the definition of faith---the faith that Rahab possessed and that Scripture praises. For faith goes beyond the confession of our mouths to the belief in our heart.

True Faith is More than a Right Confession

A right confession is very important for faith. Rahab had that right confession. We’ve just seen how Rahab believed that the Lord is victorious, the Lord is powerful, the Lord is sovereign, the Lord is all-knowing.

But most of Jericho knew the same thing! Most of the people devoted to destruction in Jericho knew that the Lord was victorious, powerful, and sovereign. That’s why we read in verses 9 and 11 that the people’s hearts were melting. Verse 9: “ the fear of you has fallen upon us . . . all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” Verse 11: “as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

You see, just confessing the right things is not enough. We need a faith that goes deeper and into our hearts. This is why James tells us that “even the demons believe—and shudder!” Even demons know the truth about God. But just knowing about God is not enough. That truth has to sink down into our hearts for it to be true faith. The fact is Rahab’s confession was good, but her fellow citizens in Jericho could have made the same confession.

True Faith’s Three Elements

So what made the difference with Rahab? Why did Rahab have a true faith that saved her? Why did Rahab enter the kingdom and the nation of Israel, while her fellow citizens of Jericho perished? Why did Rahab transfer from the kingdom of Jericho into the kingdom of God, while the rest of Jericho did not?

The answer has to do with the definition of faith. Faith has three elements: knowledge, conviction, and assurance.

First, true faith must possess knowledge. You cannot believe in the Lord if you’ve never heard of the Lord. You have to know some things about the Lord in order to believe in him. Rahab knew that the Lord was victorious, powerful, and sovereign, just as we know that Jesus is the resurrected Lord, victorious, powerful and sovereign over all things.

But second, knowledge must lead to conviction. Conviction means to be convinced. Rahab was convinced that Jericho would be destroyed. Rahab was convinced that the Lord would win a great victory over her native city. Rahab was convinced about the past victories of the Lord over Egypt and the Amorites, and she was convinced of the Lord’s future victories over Jericho and the Canaanites.

In a similar way, you and I are convinced that Jesus won a great victory in the past over sin and death and the devil, when he died and rose on the third day. We are convinced that this victory actually took place. But we are also convinced that Jesus will win a great victory in the future when he returns. We are convinced that this present world will be defeated and Christ’s kingdom will come in its fullness.

And so a true faith consists of knowledge and conviction. We know the facts about the Lord and his victories, and are convinced of the truth of these things.

But finally, true faith has a third element that’s vital. This third element is assurance.

Another word for assurance might be commitment. We commit our way unto the Lord. We call upon him to be our Lord. We seek a change of kingdoms. We desire and ask to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the Lord’s kingdom of light.

In other words, we seek the Lord’s mercy. We seek the Lord’s salvation.

And this is what Rahab did. She sought the Lord’s kindness and favor. She sought a change of kingdom based on his mercy.

And, you see, God’s mercy is the only basis on which we can seek to enter his kingdom. Because if the Lord gave us what we deserved, we would receive his wrath and destruction. Like Jericho we are devoted to destruction. We live in a fallen world that is just as devoted to destruction as Jericho. Like Isaiah we must cry out, “Woe is me! . . . for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Based on what we deserve because of our sins, the sentence can only be everlasting death away from the presence of the Lord.

But true faith confesses that the Lord is right in his judgment of our sins, but it also says, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Receive me into your kingdom for Christ’s sake. You sent him into the world for sinners. Have mercy on me and my family for his sake.”

This is what Rahab did. Rahab appealed to the mercy and grace of God. What else could she do?---she was a prostitute in a condemned city devoted to destruction! But so are we, dear friends! We live in a world that’s passing away and will be destroyed by fire when the Lord returns from heaven. We are people who have prostituted ourselves to idols and false lovers. Like Rahab, what else can we do? All we can do is seek the Lord’s mercy and grace offered to us on account of Jesus Christ.

If you come to the Father through the cross of Jesus, let me assure you that the Lord will save you and receive you into his kingdom. Just as he saved Rahab from destruction, so he will save you. And so I urge you to take the humble place of Rahab, by doing two things:

  1. First, acknowledge your sinful condition. Acknowledge your prostitution with idols and false lovers. Acknowledge that you have not sought God’s kingdom and righteousness with all your heart.

  2. Second, call upon the Lord for mercy. Seek to be saved from the coming wrath of God’s judgment. Jesus died and took the wrath and judgment of God upon himself. On that basis, come to your heavenly Father through his Son.

If you sincerely do those two things and continue to do them, know that you are saved. Know that you are a member of Christ’s kingdom. Know that you have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the wonderful kingdom of light, love, resurrection power and joy. Praise the Lord for his grace and mercy to you.

III. True Faith’s Works and Words

True faith is what saves us. True faith is the hand that takes hold of Jesus Christ and his benefits. True faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the way in which we enter God’s kingdom. We are saved by faith alone as faith takes hold of Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf.

Rahab’s faith led to good works, which included lying!

But true faith will show itself in good works. If true faith connects us to Jesus Christ, then good works will be produced in our lives. If Jesus is the vine and our faith has brought us into the vine as branches, then we can’t help but do good works. When the life and love of Christ are flowing into our lives, then a change must happen.

And we see that change in Rahab. I want you to think for a moment about what Rahab did in hiding these spies.

What if the king of Jericho would’ve found out she helped the enemy by hiding the spies? What would’ve happened to Rahab? Well, undoubtedly she would’ve died. Rahab was risking her life by hiding these spies. By siding with God’s kingdom against the kingdom of Jericho, Rahab risked her life. Rahab’s faith led to good works that benefitted the kingdom of God.

Defining Good Works in Relation to Christ’s Kingdom

And really, that’s what good works are, aren’t they? Good works are works that advance and build up the kingdom of God. Good works are actions and words that seek first God’s kingdom.

Our Lord Jesus teaches us that there is no value and no priority higher for us than his kingdom. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

When Rahab hid the spies and protected them this is exactly what she was doing. She was doing a good work for the kingdom of God. She was siding with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Jericho, which was resisting God and his kingdom.

Rahab protected two members of God’s kingdom from certain death, and Jesus taught us that how we treat the members of his kingdom is how we treat him our king! In Matthew 25:40 our Lord teaches us how important it is to treat our fellow Christians and kingdom members well. He says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

The Important Context of Spiritual Warfare

But someone might still object and say, “But Rahab lied. How can that be right? How can the Bible praise her for lying?”

Have you ever considered that God himself commands us to lie and deceive in certain situations? In a situation of holy war the Lord commands the army of Israel to set up an ambush and to feign a defeat by fleeing from the city. In both of these situations, ambush and pretending to flee, there is deception, and in every deception there is a lie. What we learn from this is that in holy war deception is permissible and sometimes even commanded by the Lord.

There are other places in Scripture where we see deception on the part of the Lord himself! In Psalm 18 we read:
25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful;with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;26 with the purified you show yourself pure;and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

This is even clearer in 2 Thessalonians 2. There we read about how the Lord deceives the wicked who refuse his truth. It says: “they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

You see, there is a spiritual war taking place in this world. In this holy war the stakes are terribly high. The stakes are the eternal welfare of men’s souls. In this war there are two kingdoms. The kingdom of darkness opposes the kingdom of light, and the kingdom of light opposes the kingdom of darkness.

Into this conflict comes the gospel of Jesus Christ and his victory. And this gospel calls on people to choose sides. If we choose for Christ and his truth, then there is life and blessing and joy. If we refuse to choose for Christ, then there can only be lies and darkness and deception.

Rahab chose for herself the truth of God’s kingdom, but immediately that brought her into conflict with the kingdom of darkness. We need to remember that the context of Rahab’s lie is this context of holy war.

Here are some things to learn as we conclude this sermon and consider the issue of Rahab’s lie:

  • First, the highest value for the Christian is God’s kingdom and righteousness, which we are to seek (Mat. 6:33).

  • Second, there is a spiritual battle between the world (Jericho), i.e., the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Jesus Christ. How this should sober our minds as we live our lives in this spiritual battleground!

  • Third, when human authorities side with the kingdom of the darkness, as they sometimes do, and ask us to disobey the Lord, we cannot (Acts 5:28-29; Ex. 1:15-20).

  • Fourth, when human authorities side with the kingdom of darkness and want our cooperation in doing evil, we should disobey and may have lie to protect the innocent.

Lying is a very irregular thing for the children of God. We follow the One who is the truth! We have believed his witness to the truth! We are to be messengers of the truth of the gospel to the nations.

But by believing the truth of the gospel we have transferred kingdoms and are brought into spiritual conflict. Such a time of spiritual conflict sometimes leads to ethical dilemmas. The good news is that by God’s wisdom and strength, we can do good works for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will probably be a rare occurrence, but such good works may even include lies to protect innocent lives to the glory of God.

Conclusion

Dear friends, if you are a believer, consider the grace of God he has shown you. Such grace has saved you from a Jericho-like world destined for destruction. God sent his beloved Son on your behalf. Come to him again. Trust him.

Consider also the nature of the world you live in. This life is serious. This present life is the battleground for men’s souls. The gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the instrument by which God is saving souls. Believe it. Tell it. Support it. Don’t change it.

Finally, consider that your highest value in life is Christ’s kingdom. Seek to live your life in a way that honors that kingdom. Pursue right relationships, that is, righteousness, in every area of your life. Live your life for the love of your King, who saved you. Live in fellowship with him and with the Father.

Let us pray.

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