Sunday, November 30, 2008

Persecution of Evangelical Christians in Mexico

Jailings, threats, fines, deprivation of water and electricity – all keep pace with church growth.

MEXICO CITY, November 25 (Compass Direct News) – As the number of evangelical Christians in southern Mexico has grown, hostilities from “traditionalist Catholics” have kept pace, according to published reports. Especially in indigenous communities in southern Mexico, the prevailing attitude is that only traditionalist Catholics, who blend native rituals with Roman Catholicism, have rights to religious practice, according to news reports. Moreover, the reports indicate the traditionalist Catholic villagers believe they have the right to force others to conform to their religion. In Oaxaca state, four Christians in Santiago Teotlaxco, Ixtlan de Juarez district, were jailed on Nov. 16 for refusing to participate in a traditionalist Catholic festival and for not paying the high quotas they were assigned to help cover its costs, according to La Voz news agency. Their neighbors, now fewer than the town’s 180 Christian evangelicals, have been trying to force them to practice what the evangelicals regard as idolatrous adoration of saints and other rituals contrary to their faith. As a result of such pressure, non-Catholics in the area, including children, live in fear of being expelled from their properties.

Article 4 of the Thirty Nine Articles --- Michael Jensen

Here is Michael Jensen's brief explanation of article 4 of the Thirty Nine Articles dealing with Christ's resurrection. This paragraph in particular captures a truth we need to recover in today's Reformed, Lutheran, and Evangelical churches:

"And - he will return to judge. It was this aspect of resurrection faith that particularly energised the early preaching of the apostles, giving its urgency. Think of Paul in Athens telling them "...he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31). The resurrection stands as a terrifying truth as well as a glorious one - that the world faces a day of just judgement."

Article IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Did this need to be reasserted in the 16th Century? Was it being denied? Perhaps not as it is today, even by Anglican bishops - a former Bishop of Durham called the physical resurrection 'a conjuring trick with bones'. Providentially it seems, the framers of the articles made a strong statement about the physical resurrection. The fourth article goes to some lengths, beyond the creeds indeed, to assert the full physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: 'flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature'. Jesus is not some ghost, then. This is the one into whose side Thomas was invited to place his hands; the one who ate fish in the presence of his disciples. But, also the one who appeared and disappeared, even in a locked room. This wasn't the nostalgic memory of Jesus, or the warming of the disciples' grieving hearts with some spiritual experience which they named 'resurrection'.

No, it was the bones, the flesh and all his humanity. It was not the Son of God now denuded of his ugly and undivine physicality that ascended into heaven; rather, it was the full man. Just as the Son of God, in his entire divinity 'pitched his tent among us' (John 1), so, in his full humanity, Jesus Christ entered into the heavenly realm to sit at the right of God. A human being, then, reigns over the world from the heavenly throne. Now, this humanity is, granted, a transformed humanity; but it is a humanity nonetheless. Jesus in heaven does not become some other thing.

The resurrection of Jesus indicates that redemption is of the whole human person as a human person. Redemption indicates the liberation of human beings from their bondage and corruption, and their destiny of death and judgement – the final obliteration of the human person in body and spirit.

But when redemption is seen in terms of resurrection, what comes into view is the restoration of humans in their entirety, including the emancipation of their bodies. Flesh and blood, after all, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Cranfield wrote:

The Empty Tomb certainly implies that it was a whole Christ who died for us and that it is the whole Christ who lives for evermore; that He came to redeem us as whole men, not just a part of us; that the body is part of the human personality and that contempt for the body and the physical is also contempt for the Creator. C.E.B. Cranfield, Scottish Journal of Theology vol. 5, 1952, p.404

And - he will return to judge. It was this aspect of resurrection faith that particularly energised the early preaching of the apostles, giving its urgency. Think of Paul in Athens telling them "...he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:31). The resurrection stands as a terrifying truth as well as a glorious one - that the world faces a day of just judgement.



Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Beautiful Fragrance of Love for Christ

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Eighth Commandment

You shall not steal.

110 Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

A. He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law.

But in God's sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our

neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate, such as: inaccurate
measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising;
counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God.

In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.

2) Scripture

John 12:1-8: Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Comment:

What a beautiful scene this was in Bethany. How the gathered disciples loved Jesus! Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had special reasons for loving Jesus, for Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead not too long before. And, of course, the twelve had great love for Jesus, for they were his closest confidantes. So when we read that “the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume,” this fragrance becomes a symbol of the loveliness of Christians united together in their common love for the Lord Jesus Christ.

But one person found this lovely fragrance to be a stench. This man was a thief. This man was an idolater. He loved something else more than he loved Christ Jesus. To cover his love of money and self, and his lack of love for Christ, he put on the robe of good intentions: “Why was this ointment not sold . . . and given to the poor?”

This man considered the anointing of Jesus to be “a pointless squandering of his [God’s] gifts,” but this was only because his idolatry blinded him to the unsurpassable beauty of the Lord Jesus. When we worship idols, like money, we become as spiritually insensitive as the idols we serve. Judas could not see the surpassing glory of Jesus, and so he could not make a right spiritual judgment.

Let’s learn the lesson that greed is idolatry --- that there is a close connection between the robbery and idolatry. Let’s learn that the greatest robbery of all is not to give our triune God the glory he is due, for when we love anything more than we love the Lord we are robbing him of the honor he is due. O that our families, churches, and personal lives might be filled with the pleasing fragrance of love for Jesus Christ.

Discussion: Put yourself in Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ sandals. Why was their love for Jesus so great? Look up 2 Corinthians 2:14-16. How is this passage similar to John 12:1-8?

Prayer Starter: Pray to the Father for the Spirit’s work in your heart that you might love the Lord Jesus Christ above all else, and might use his gifts for his glory and other’s good.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Heidelberg Catechism's Approach to Christian Piety

I am currently reading R. Scott Clark's book Recovering the Reformed Confession. I wanted to quote portions of a section from his book dealing with the piety or kind of Christian life the Heidelberg Catechism aims at producing. This part of Clark's book fits quite nicely with the aim of The Heidel-Bible Blog.

"With its emphasis on the ordinary [means of grace], the confessional Reformed theology did produce a vital personal and profound piety grounded in the objective saving work of God in Christ and empowered by the Christian's union with the ascended Christ wrought by the Holy Spirit. The very structure of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC), as indicated in the second question, is indicative of the confessional Reformed approach to piety. From God's holy law we learn first the greatness of our sin and misery and our need for a Savior. From the gospel, we learn how believers are redeemed from sin and misery. Following from our redemption is the Christian life, that is, how we ought to be thankful for such redemption.

"Even before the third part of the catechism, there are indications of the sort of piety the classic Reformed theology envisioned. According to HC Q. 32, we are partakers of Christ's anointing, with the result that the Christian life is a 'sacrifice of thankfulness,' in which we fight against sin and the devil. The same theme recurs in Q. 43. There are two great benefits of Christ's death on the cross. The second of them is that 'thereby our old man is crucified, slain and buried with him, that so the evil lusts of the flesh may no more reign in us, but that we may offer ourselves unto him as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.' Because of our union with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, we are 'raised up to a new life' (Q. 45). God the Spirit has given to us as 'an earnest, by whose power we seek those things which are above' (Q. 49). God the Spirit has not only effected our union with Christ, but he himself has been given to me, 'comforts me,' and through him Christ shall abide with me ever (Q. 53). Through Christ's presence with me, I 'feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy' (Q. 58). This same Spirit necessarily works in us the 'fruits of thankfulness' (Q. 64).

"All this occurs before the catechism actually turns its attention formally to the doctrine of sanctification. The Christian life is the process of being renewed by the Holy Spirit in the image of Christ. Consequently, we must 'show ourselves thankful to God' (Q. 86). The theme of the Christian life as a death returns in questions 88-90. The Christian life is the 'dying of the old man,' that is, mortification of sin, and the 'making alive of the new' (Q. 88). Mortification entails hatred for and turning from sin (Q. 89). Spiritual renewal is 'heartfelt joy' in God and delighting in his revealed moral will. One of the most interesting things, however, about the catechism's view of piety is its definition and use of prayer. Having accounted for sin and death, the gospel, the means of grace, and God's moral will for believers, the catechism turns to prayer in its exposition of the Lord's Prayer.

'Why is prayer necessary? Because it is the 'chief part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.' He has ordered his relations with his people so that 'he will give his grace and Holy Spirit only to such as heartily and without ceasing beg for them from him and render thanks unto him for them.'

"The catechism defines prayer more closely in the subsequent question (Q. 117). Christian prayer comes from the heart, according to God's Word, to the only true God, as he 'has revealed himself to us.' In order to pray properly, we must be aware of God's majestic presence, we must know our 'need and misery and we must pray believing that the Father hears our prayers for Christ's sake.' Given the tripartite structure of the catechism, it is significant that prayer appears at the very end. Prayer is the chief way for believers, united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, to express their faith and to work out their salvation 'with fear and trembling' (Phil. 2:12). It is the evidence and expression of the Spirit's work of gratitude in the heart of the Christian. While, considered narrowly, private prayer is not a 'means of grace,' it is a wonderfully joyous duty to commune with the Father, through the Son, by virtue of the Holy Spirit's help. It is a great privilege to exercise our personal relationship with Christ by asking of God 'all things necessary for soul and body (Q. 118) according to the pattern revealed in the Lord's Prayer."

A bit later, Clark writes, "We are not on a quest to experience God apart from the divinely ordained means. . . . No tradition has written more deeply or more carefully about the intimate personal relations between the Savior and his saved (Clark is speaking of the Reformed tradition); but, unlike Meister Eckhart or Catherine of Siena, we have located our rather modest mysticism in Word and sacrament. The Spirit works a mystical union through the preaching of the gospel by which he creates faith. He strengthens that union through Word and sacrament."



An Objection to Christianity (Part 2)

We continue our look at president-elect Obama's quote:

(1)“I'm a big believer in tolerance . . . I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding . . . (2)there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty . . . (3)I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. (4)There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell . . . I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup.”

Let's look at the phrase "there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty." The twentieth century was the bloodiest century in human history. More people died in wars in the twentieth century than all the other centuries combined. And yet, none of the world wars of the twentieth century were religious conflicts. In fact, one could argue that World War II was a result of the secular ideologies of evolution (survival of the fittest) and nihilism as nations like Germany applied such atheistic thinking to the human race.

There is nothing inherent in the Christian faith that would lead to war. In fact, the Bible calls on us to put to death by the Spirit those desires that lead to war, things like envy, greed, and hatred. James 4:1-4 says:

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

The next objection to Christianity is stated this way: "I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize."

Here I just want to say to such "sensitive" souls, who find the attempts of Christians to persuade others that Jesus Christ is Lord offensive, learn to turn the channel! Persuasion is not compulsion! It is absurd to be upset because someone is trying to persuade someone else of the truth of their position, especially in a country that purportedly believes in free speech.

Could it be that the people who are offended at even the attempt of anyone to evangelize are really troubled by a guilty conscience? Could it be that some don't want to hear about sin and grace because deep down they know that they are sinners, who are not right with God?

Even if this is not the case, it is simply the way God created us that we try to persuade others about the things we are passionate about and believe to be true. Parents counsel their children. Educators educate. Advertisers advertise. Politicians seek votes. Postmoderns try to convince us of the truth that there is no truth! And, Christians believe the One who is the truth, who saves us from sin and God's judgment, and because of love speak of the One who can save us from the coming judgment. Why is that offensive? Why is that a threat to anyone?

Next time we will deal with the final part of Barack Obama's statement.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Prayers

From the United Reformed Denomination's hymnal:

Our Sovereign God, who created all things for your pleasure and who gives to all life, breath, and every good thing, we praise you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. For rain and sunshine, in abundance and in lack, we acknowledge that our times are in your hands. You supply all of your creatures with your good gifts: the just and the unjust alike. Nevertheless, we especially give you praise for the surpassing greatness of your saving grace that you have shown to us in Christ Jesus our Savior. For our election in him before the foundation of the world; for our redemption by him in his life, death, and resurrection; for our effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and all of the blessings of our union with him, we give you our heartfelt thanks. And we look with great anticipation toward that day when you will raise us to life everlasting, glorified and confirmed in righteousness, so that we may sing your praises without the defilement of our present weaknesses, distractions, and sins. As you have served us with these gifts, we ask that you would give us grateful hearts so that through us you may serve our neighbors. In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, Amen.

From the Book of Common Prayer:

O merciful Creator, whose hand is open wide to satisfy the
needs of every living creature: Make us, we beseech thee,
ever thankful for thy loving providence; and grant that we,
remembering the account that we must one day give, may be
faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


From the Worship Sourcebook based on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 125:

Almighty God,
do take care of all our physical needs
so that we come to know
that you are the only source of everything good

and that neither our work and worry
nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.
And so help us to give up our trust in creatures
and to put our trust in you alone.
Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.



An Objection to Christianity (Part 1)

A couple days ago I came across this quote from our president-elect, Barack Obama (the numbers in the parentheses are mine):

(1)“I'm a big believer in tolerance . . . I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding . . . (2)there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty . . . (3)I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. (4)There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell . . . I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup.”

I want to anazlyze these words of president-elect Obama from a biblical point of view. I've inserted numbers in parentheses in order to organize this analysis. First, let's look at Obama's suspicion of certainty: "I'm a big believer in tolerance . . . I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding . . . ."

One of the problems with the idea that we cannot know the truth with certainty, is that this belief is self-defeating. The same people who say they cannot be certain, make assertions that contain the very certainty that they decry!

2 Timothy 3:7 describes a class of people who are "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth." As Christians we believe that truth is knowable --- that we can "arrive at a knowledge of the truth." Jesus Christ himself is the truth, and the gospel is the means by which we come to know him. This gospel comes to us in words. It is a knowledge we can rely upon because it comes from the God who does not lie.

I know that we will never know with the same sort of certainty that characterizes God's knowledge. The way God knows and the way we limited human beings know is different. But just because God's knowledge is archetypal and our knowledge is ectypal, does not mean that we cannot know the truth. Jesus, our Lord, expresses confidence about knowledge of the truth that we should share as his disciples: "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" (
John 18:37).

The other thing to notice about the president-elect's words are their false humility. It appears to be humble to say that I cannot come to a knowledge of the truth because of my limitations as a human being, but in reality this is just another way to avoid submitting to God's Word! Rebellion against the Word of God can be camouflaged in humility, but the bottom line is listening to Christ's voice, and then trusting and obeying.

If I tell my son, "Today, I want you to mow the lawn," and I come home from work and the lawn is not mowed, it is not a sign of humility if he says to me, "I wasn't sure what you meant by today!" No, humility is to love and obey your father's/Father's words. Similarly, humility in the triune God's world (and it is his world!) is measured by our response to his words.

Tomorrow, I will continue this analysis of this quote from Barack Obama.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Storm Clouds of Persecution on the Horizon?

I am not a prophet, and have no way of knowing what the future holds. But there are some clouds on the horizon that may portend difficulties for faithful Christians in the future.

With the election of Barack Obama, one worries, for example, about the government forcing Christian doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to participate in abortion procedures against their consciences. Right now, my wife, who is a pharmacist, has only been able to avoid ethical dilemmas on this score because she has worked for hospitals connected with the Seventh Day Adventists and Roman Catholics. But one wonders if a pro-abortion government will continue to allow Christian hospitals to opt out of abortion procedures?

Another concern is the homosexual issue. One wonders, now that the Liberal Democrats have gained control of the government, how long it will be before ministers will be prosecuted for hate crimes if they dare to call homosexuality a sin? If a minister's text is Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6, passages which clearly identify homosexuality as sin, will ministers who preach the text faithfully be thrown in jail? Will their congregations support them if they stand with the Scriptures against the government?

Maybe a bit further down the road, one also worries about the left's concept of tolerance that is so popular in our society. Tolerance sounds good, except that tolerance can't seem to tolerate anything perceived as intolerance! More specifically, what bothers our culture most is the intolerance of Evangelical Christians, who maintain that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven, and apart from him people face an eternal judgment.

This sort of exclusivism and certainty is hated on the left (and even by some on the right!). For them the only certainty is that there is no certainty! For them inclusivity is their greatest love, which, ironically enough, makes them hate and want to exlude Evangelicals who do not share their inclusivism. If and when this hatred in our culture will finally break out into violence is hard to say. It already makes life difficult for confessing Evangelicals.

I don't want this post to seem as though it is a whine and complaint, although I admit it is! Somehow, we who are confessing Evangelicals and hold to the exclusivity of Christ and the truthfulness of the Bible as God's Word, need to get ready for the coming storm. If the storm doesn't materialize, praise the Lord. But if it does come, we need the courage and good cheer to face it.

I say good cheer, because this is how Jesus wants us to face insults and persecution. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Somehow, we are to look at any insults or persecution we might receive as cause for gladness and joy, not complaints and whines! The only way to have this attitude is to treasure heaven far above this earth. In other words, we must prepare ourselves by setting our minds on the things above, where Christ is, and not on the things of earth (Col. 3:1-4). We must realize in a deeper way that Christ redeemed us from our slavery to sin to bring us to his heavenly temple so that we might live in his blessed presence. Just as Israel was redeemed from slavery and brought to Mt. Sinai, so we have been redeemed by Christ and brought to Mt. Zion above. This world is not our home. Our home is above with Christ, and already we dwell there by faith, enjoying union and communion with the Father and the Son.

My thoughts on the possibility of persecution were prompted by a post from TheocentriBlog. You can read this post by clicking the read more button below. Included in the post are some rather sad comments by our president-elect, the pope, and Billy Graham.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Anatomy of Future Persecution: Exclusivity of the Gospel?

What will be the basis for future persecution of the church? There is increasing news that there will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming months. This is a matter when and not if. The attack will obviously come from the hands of radical Muslims with exclusivistic theology.

Question: How many more attacks will it take for the politically correct governments of the world to outlaw exclusivistic theology as inherently dangerous and a threat to national security? If you identify with “fundamentalist” Christianity, I’m sure it is irritating for you to be identified with “fundamentalist” Islam. Now it is only a superficial connection, but how would you like for it to be a real connection that bears fruit in persecution?

Listen to the words of our future President, Barrack Obama: “I'm a big believer in tolerance . . . I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding . . . there's an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty . . . I think that the difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and prostelytize. There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that people haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior that they're going to hell . . . I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell. I can't imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That's just not part of my religious makeup.”

I also noticed a recent video on CNN where a pastor was berated by Rick Sanchez for believing in an exclusive Gospel. The reporter quoted several “authoritative” sources (the Pope, Billy Graham, and Barrack Obama [ha!]) in attempt to convince the pastor:

Pope John Paul II: “. . . it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God’s invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour.”

Billy Graham: “I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost --were going to hell. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God.”

Barrack Obama: “I am a Christian . . . So, I have a deep faith. I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”





From Michael Jensen: A Helpful Insight Into Our View of Time

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Christian Life – too urgent to rush?

Christians are, I think, living a life somewhere between the lateness and urgency of the hour ('the time is short') and the long view of time that comes from worship of the God for whom a day and a thousand years aren't very different. I think it is the latter that conditions the former: that is, the 'urgency' of living in the last times is not a frantic rush but a realisation that only good things are worth doing. It is the kind of urgency that comes from knowing our 'times are in your hands'.

The Christian attitude to time is marked by 'patient endurance'. It is more a five-day Test than Twenty-20; more gourmet meal with mature cheese and vintage wine than McDonalds; more epic than haiku; more stone than weatherboard; more Mahler than Kylie; more ocean liner than speed boat. It is more family than business. Christians don't respond rapidly to social change, on principle – and thank goodness.

So why is church life so busy? Why do ministers collapse under the burdens of the work, too exhausted to think? Why do run so many events but see so little of one another?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Sola Panel | Christian ministry and normal Christians

The Sola Panel | Christian ministry and normal Christians

Posted using ShareThis

Shocked From Our Idolatry

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Eighth Commandment

You shall not steal.

110 Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

A. He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law.

But in God's sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes

made to appear legitimate, such as: inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume;
fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means
forbidden by God.

In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.

2) Scripture

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Colossians 3:5 (NIV): Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Luke 12:15-20: And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Comment:

The eighth commandment is not merely about theft and robbery. It goes deeper to the attitude of our heart. It deals with what we trust and love above all else.

In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle places those who steal right next to those who are greedy. Both sins are so serious they can keep us from the kingdom of God!

In Colossians 3:5, the Lord tells us that greed is idolatry. The desire for more and more things for ourselves equals the sin of bowing before a statue to worship! Idolatry is just as much a modern day sin as it was when people bowed before images, for idolatry is about what we trust, love, and obey above all else.

Brian Rosner writes, “Idolatry is an attack on God’s exclusive right to our love and trust.” An attack!? Could our greed and love of money really be an attack upon God?

When I was younger, I was not always an obedient son! But I remember being taken aback when my father described my behavior as defiance toward him. That word defiance shocked me, because I hadn’t thought of my behavior in that way. The shock of the word defiance helped me to see how wrong I was.

Similarly when God says that our greed can keep us from his kingdom, or that our greed is idolatry, or that we are fools if we use our wealth merely for ourselves, these words should shock us, so that we change. These words should shock us so that we change our behavior toward our heavenly Father, and come to trust, love, and obey him above all else.

Discussion: What is idolatry? When do money and possessions become an idol in our lives? Do you find any of the Scripture passages for today shocking?

Prayer Starter: Ask the Father for a heart to trust, love, and obey him above all else. Confess any idols to him, asking for forgiveness and cleansing through Christ’s shed blood. Pray along similar lines for your children or those you love that they might not defy the Father with idols.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Your Greatest Treasure

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Eighth Commandment

You shall not steal.

110 Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

A. He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law.

But in God's sight theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes
made to appear legitimate, such as:

inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising;

counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God.

In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.

2) Scripture

Luke 16:13-15: No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Matthew 13:44-46: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Comment:

We don’t tend to think of the Pharisees as idolaters, but they were according to Jesus. One of their idols was money, because they loved and served money more than they did God. Despite all of their religiosity, prayers, fasting, and rituals, Jesus clearly points to them as idolaters.

Throughout the Old Testament, idolatry is talked about as an abomination in the sight of God. Jesus uses the same word to describe the Pharisees’ idolatry. They loved their possessions and money more than the Lord, who is our creator, redeemer, sustainer, and shepherd of our souls. To love a created thing more than our blessed, triune God is idolatry---an abomination.

Like the Pharisees, we tend to justify and excuse ourselves of our idols. We refuse to confess our out of whack priorities---that we love and serve God’s gifts more than God himself, the Giver of every good gift. We need to repent of our idolatry and plead for the Lord to change our hearts.

The two parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13 will show us the change we need. We need to come to the place where we treasure the kingdom of heaven above everything else in our lives. The kingdom is supremely valuable because the King of the kingdom is supremely valuable. His presence in our lives is our greatest good. Being a member of his kingdom, forgiven and cleansed, enjoying fellowship with the Father and the Son and his people, is our greatest treasure.

Until we treasure Jesus Christ’s kingdom as “so valuable that it is worth sacrificing everything to gain it,” using our money and gifts rightly as the catechism directs us will be impossible. But if we will repent of our idolatry and treasure the Lord and his kingdom, we will begin to reflect the gracious generosity and goal of our King, who desires the salvation of the world.

Discussion: Does it surprise you that the Pharisees’ were idolaters? How does the Lord view idolatry according to the passage from Luke? Do you treasure Christ and his kingdom above everything else?

Prayer Starter: Pray for the Spirit’s work in your heart. Ask him to work in your heart so that you treasure God’s kingdom above all else.

Persecution of Christians in Iran

From the Persecution Blog on November 21 comes this:

From Christian World News today...

Iran's Christians are calling on churches worldwide to join them in three days of praying and fasting this weekend.

Elam Ministries, a group that supports Iranian Christians, says the church has come under increased persecution this year, including the introduction of a law requiring the death sentence for men who leave islam to follow Christ. Women would face life in prison.

In an initial vote, Iran's Parliament approved the measure overwhelmingly. It is now under review before a final vote and approval by the Guardian Council.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Sola Panel | Guilt-edged pages?

This post by Nicole Starling and the Sola Panel gets at why Evangelicals are making worthless books like The Shack into bestsellers. The sad truth is that many so-called Evangelicals are idolaters, who prefer a god of their own making to the triune God of the Bible, who made us, and will remake us, if we trust in him alone. If we worship worthless idols, and The Shack reinvents God according to its author's imagination, we will become worthless --- as spiritually deaf and dumb as the idols we make. --Bill

The Sola Panel Guilt-edged pages?

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Wonderful Works of the Triune God

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

24 Q. How are these articles divided?

A. Into three parts:
God the Father and our creation;
God the Son and our deliverance;
God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.

2) Scripture

1 Corinthians 8:6: There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Comment:

The catechism teaches us that the Apostles Creed has a three part structure. First, we say, “I believe in God the Father.” Second, we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.” Third, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

But the catechism also teaches us that the Apostles Creed has a three part structure in another way. First, there is a discussion of creation; second, a discussion of deliverance; and, third, a discussion of sanctification.

However, it is important to see that all three members of the trinity were involved in our creation, our deliverance, and are presently involved in our sanctification. For example, 1 Corinthians 8:6 says that the Father created all things (“from whom are all things”). But it also teaches us that the agent of the Father’s creation was Jesus Christ (“through whom are all things”).

The same is true of our deliverance or redemption. The Father sent the Son in love. The Son carried out the Father’s will by his loving obedience that took him to the cross. The Spirit enabled the Son to offer himself in love without blemish to the Father (Hebrews 9:14).

Or, take sanctification, which in the New Testament (NT) means either one of two things. First, sometimes sanctification in the NT refers to definitive sanctification, which is the idea that believers in Christ are set apart as holy. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers so that their new status is holy. This is why in the NT believers are called saints, which mean holy ones. But, second, sometimes in the NT sanctification refers to progressive sanctification, which is the process of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that our desires, thoughts, and behavior are changed into his likeness.

Sanctification, like creation and redemption, is not just the work of the Spirit, but also the work of the Father and the Son. Sanctification occurs as we live in fellowship with the Father and the Son --- a fellowship enabled by the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer’s heart.

Discussion: In what two ways do we see a three part structure in the Apostles Creed? Are we to think of only the Father as involved in creation --- only the Son involved in redemption --- and only the Spirit involved in sanctification?

Prayer Starter: Praise and adore the triune God for his wonderful works of creation, redemption, and sanctification. Praise him doing a mighty, new creative work in your heart by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19-20).

Article 1 of the Thirty Nine Articles --- Michael Jensen

Here is Michael Jensen's brief exposition of the Article 1 of the Thirty Nine Articles. --Bill

Article I: Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.


It is easy to forget just how far from obvious the claim that there is only one God is. In the west, we have become used to the alternative of either one God, or no God. The one-ness of God (if it isn't to be his none-ness) has become rather an abstract piece of data about him.

But this has not been the choice in most of human history. Surely in the vast universe with all its diversity and array and all its flux and change there is room for a variety of gods. In fact, why should we believe that the tumult and struggle we encounter about us does not correspond to a divine tumult and struggle: that there isn't a chaos of gods with their special interests and foibles?According to Scripture - and to a great deal of human experience, too - there are other spiritual beings. But none of them is 'divine': which means one of them is equal to him in the things that make him God.

God's one-ness is a declaration of his supremacy over all other contenders for deity. And the corollory for human beings is that there is no other worthy of worship. Which is to say, no other being ought to be in competition for our allegiance and our devotion. Now, you'll see I've slipped in the word 'ought'. There is a natural imperative that springs from the one-ness of God. If God is one, then there is none other to whom we ought to respond as God. There is not alternative ultimate for us to be directed towards.

Christianity is a monotheistic faith. But it is a very curious form of monotheism. Because the orthodox Christian creeds testify that within this unity is a triplicity. The unity of God is not simple, but complex; it isn't a unity of sameness, but a unity of difference.This is the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity identifies our God – it helps us to name him and to know him, to speak to him and about him. In a world of which presents us with a smorgasbord of gods, the Trinity specifies who it is we worship – “he who raised Jesus from the dead” by the power of the Spirit (Rom 8:11).

The Article emphasises the sheer transcendence of this deity and his freedom, matched by the three-fold cord of his classic attributes of power, wisdom and goodness. But some negatives need to be put, too: he is 'without body, parts, or passions.'

That he is without passions is most controversial to contemporary readers - but what this terms is meant to convey is that he is not prey to his emotions or whims. He is not irascible or moody, a victim of his own nature.The overwhelming consensus in twentieth century theology was that divine impassability had become an untenable doctrine. In the wake of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, it seemed impossible to believe in a God who is not sensitive, emotional and compassionate. Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

‘The doctrine of the essential impassability of the divine nature now seems finally to be disappearing from the Christian doctrine of God.’

While the tradition has fairly consistently taught impassibility of one form or another for 1900 years unbroken, there are of course good biblical grounds for questioning it at least. It would be possible to present a version of the doctrine of God which is impossibly abstract to the degree that it makes the deity into a depersonalised force.

Even Colin Gunton, who expresses his doubts about impassability, concedes in the end that the doctrine expresses...'the ontological integrity of God, his immunity from alteration in his being as the result of things done by creatures. It is linked with his moral consistency and integrity, as well as his sovereignty - the assurance that he cannot be deflected from achieving his purposes.' (p. 131) This sounds more than a little reluctant on Gunton's part. But, I think that while rejecting impassability fits in with the zeitgeist I am not sure that this rejection can be any way said to reflect orthodox Christian teaching, not really.


Introduction to the Thirty Nine Articles by Michael Jensen

Michael Jensen teaches at Moore College in Sydney, Australia. He is writing a book on the 39 Articles, which is the Reformed confession of the Anglican Church. His introduction deftly explains why so many modern people have no interest in creeds and confessions, but points out why such a lack of interest needs to be rethought. --Bill

Introduction

It has to be said that we live in an age which doesn’t really like ideology very much. Systems of doctrine and great schemes of knowledge have caused plenty of trouble in our world and so we find ourselves rather nauseated when people care too much for that sort of thing. Demanding that there is a right way to think seems to be a way to bully others. The great “isms” of the 20th century – Marxism, Stalinism, Fascism, Nazism – left the globe awash in blood; the religions of the world are famed for their links to violent outrages. And for most right-thinking people in the West enough is enough: enough with the doctrines that claim to have an answer for everything, that say they can make a complex world neat and tidy by imposing a grid of ideas and forcing everybody to fit. It was almost ninety years ago that the Irish poet W.B. Yeats wrote

…The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are filled with passionate intensity.[1]


His words have a contemporary ring: wouldn’t it be better to “lack all conviction” and just get on with everybody? Hasn’t “passionate intensity” wreaked enough havoc, caused enough megadeath? Aren’t convictions inherently dangerous, (literally) explosive even? Aren’t convictions “prisons”, as Nietzsche thought?[2]

Furthermore, we live in a deeply skeptical age. Many people doubt that anyone can have confidence in things you can’t experience first hand. I was going to say that people doubt things you can’t experience with your senses, but it is true that there is quite a lot of “spirituality” about – that is, it is quite fashionable to speak of yourself as “a spiritual person” who is in some way in contact with the divine or the higher being or something like it. To speak of having personal religious experiences is quite common. I can be sure at least about what I feel. But to speak confidently of things that seem so outside of oneself – to say that the one God is three persons, for example – is surely impossible. To make statements about what you believe seems to be just the wishful thinking of another age.

However, much as we might imagine that it is the path to a safer world, it is impossible to live without convictions. Believing - that some things are true and that some other things are not, and that some things are good and that some other things are less good – is a part of what it is to be human. Even the person who loves peace and whatever it takes to achieve it, so that they can get on with their life as they wish to live it, is saying something about what they believe to be most important, and is staking a commitment to it. Sometimes these beliefs may be carefully worked out and thought through; sometimes they may be merely what everyone else thinks; and sometimes they may be “gut reactions”, things we are aware of the level of our instincts. But these are all at some level “convictions” about how things are and how they ought to be. So, the question is not “do I have convictions” but rather “what am I convicted about”?

Christians are people who have a particular set of convictions. Primarily, they are convicted that in Jesus of Nazareth, a human person like one of us, God the creator took on human flesh, died for sins and rose again; and that today among us we may know him by his Spirit.[3] Now, this isn’t a dry-as-dust set of propositions put to them in some kind of philosophy tutorial: it means for them that they have encountered the very source of life itself in Jesus. It transforms their lives. For the earliest Christians, this explained why they were worshipping this Jesus - a man - as the only true God – something that had been unthinkable before. These “convictions” were not a matter of ticking the box on some survey; they were a life-transforming reality, something that many of them would be happy to die for, as it turned out.

This small group of convictions obviously needs a bit of mulling over, and explaining. And there are any number of questions that you could put to them. And so, since the time of the early churches, Christians have attempted to put some flesh on the bones, so to speak: to clarify and interpret and explain them, to say what they weren’t saying sometimes as much as what they were. And so, they produced at various times great statements of the faith in order to say as clearly as possible, “these are the things which we are convinced are true (and here is what we know isn’t)”. One of these was the great creed known as the Nicene Creed, developed over the course of the 4th century AD. In it, the churches asserted that the Jesus they worshipped was both fully man and fully God.

This book is an interaction with another statement of faith: a set of Christian convictions produced by leaders of the Church of England as their statement of belief in the 16th century – The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. The Church of England – known today as the Anglican, or Episcopal Church in many parts of the world – had its beginnings not with high-minded theological convictions but with the needs of international politics. In 1534, Henry VIII broke away from the Church of Rome and the authority of the Pope and made himself supreme governor of the Church in England – in the first place because he needed a divorce from his Spanish wife in order to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn.

And yet there were matters of genuine theological conviction in play – it was more than a just a matter of a king’s love life. The movement we know now as the Reformation had begun to sweep Europe in the 1520s under the influence of people such as Martin Luther in Germany and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland. Its influence had certainly been felt in England: so much so that King Henry had written a piece staunchly defending the Pope’s position against Luther! In brief, the Reformation made a two-pronged attack on the version of Christianity that the Roman Catholic Church was at that time presenting.

The first substantial issue was a matter of authority. The champions of the Reformation saw themselves as returning to the Bible as the supreme authority in the Christian faith. Only Scripture was ultimately authoritative: not the Church itself or its Pope or its traditions. These needed to be under the Bible, and shaped by it. And so translating and distributing the Bible was a major task that the Reformers and their supporters undertook at this time.

The second substantial issue was answering the question of how someone might be saved (what theologians call soteriology). All were agreed that the death of Jesus for sin was a necessary component of human salvation – but how did the whole scheme fit together? In the medieval period, various theories had been suggested as to how this came about. How much was human effort, and how much was God’s work? For example, one theory demanded that a person had to do whatever was within them to please God; recognizing this that he or she had done their best, God would graciously accomplish the rest in Christ. By their intense study of the Bible, the Reformers had discovered that no human effort was required for salvation at all – not the least because no human effort could achieve it. Rather, a person is justified by faith in the work of Christ on the cross only, and not at all by their own efforts to please God.[4] Doing good things was only the outworking of what God had done, not part of the process of being saved in the first place.

These two themes, as we shall see, underlie the attempt to provide a summary of the Christian faith that we find in these articles; for through Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and others, Reformation ideas – particularly those of Luther, and later John Calvin - became a feature of the Reformation in England.

The Articles themselves are mainly the work of Cranmer, who was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII (dates) and then under his son Edward VI (1547-1553). It was during Edward’s reign that he began to frame a list of doctrines that would stamp the English church with the indelible mark of Reformed theology. It wasn’t until the reign of Elizabeth I, however, that the Articles took their final shape and number (Cranmer had offered 42), in 1571. This was after much toing and froing, as we might expect.

In many ways the Thirty-Nine articles are a statement of faith for the sixteenth century. They reflect the controversies of their day, not ours. For example, there is an extended statement on the Lord’s Supper – which was a real bone of contention between the Reformation and the Roman Catholic Church (and between the Reformers, too, it has to be said). They are certainly not a perfect list. They seem to leave out what to us may seem like important things – they say hardly anything about the return of Christ, or about the Creation of the world, for example. And they overemphasize what seem to us unimportant things – a whole article is given over to Jesus’ descent into hell, and another to the swearing of oaths. At points they reflect the necessary evil of compromise rather than present a single pure vision of what is true. The grubby fingers of the committee process are certainly in evidence.

So: are they worth studying today? Today very different issues confront all Christian believers and Anglicans among them. We ask, what is the right way for Christians to behave sexually? How can we square our faith with the scientific knowledge on which we so depend? What is the best way to order our churches and what should our services look like? How should we relate to the political world in which we live? I would argue that the convictions outlined here are most certainly worth revisiting in our times. These articles are not an embarrassing skeleton in the Anglican closet but rather the result of a careful listening to the Bible and its teaching. They are an attempt to express what God says to his people in the Bible. In them, the Church of England declares itself subject to God’s Word in Scripture, and not free to do anything else but listen to what the Bible says and respond in obedience. Those who framed them were well aware that times would change, and that there would be different customs and cultures in which Christians would have to live out their faith. They themselves had lived through turbulent and difficult times, when beliefs were in a tremendous flux and when there was enormous pressure on individuals to change their beliefs to suit the times.

Our times are no less tricky. The churches that identify with the Anglican tradition are no less in a crisis of self-identity today. People who call themselves “Anglican” seem to spend an enormous amount of energy disputing what that exactly means and over who has the right to call themselves really “Anglican”.[5] The Thirty-Nine Articles - along with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer - are to this day seen by many people as a touchstone for what being an Anglican might be. And yet, even the significance of this touchstone is disputed. There are Anglicans, theologians and bishops among them, who would see the significance of the Articles as quite secondary and would even deny their ongoing authority as a frame for Anglican teaching.

There is more than a touch of contemporary arrogance in this attitude – a feeling of superiority over the past, that it was fine for people to subscribe to such beliefs four centuries ago, but that we know better now. But Christians are not freed from the obligation of listening to the voices of their brothers and sisters from the past. These articles are reminder that, for Anglicans as for all Christians, convictions do matter. They remind us that even though stating what you believe is not easy, that it is a task incumbent on Christians of every time and place. They are not a dull list of abstract statements, but the implications of thinking through a living faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Agreeing to them is not at all the same as having a saving faith in Christ Jesus; but they help to protect and frame and shape the preaching of that same Jesus Christ by some of those who would follow him. There are those – like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and Bishops Latimer and Ridley - who died for these beliefs, pointing as they did so to the greater reality that they represented: namely Jesus Christ, the greater judge, the Lord of all.



[1] “The Second Coming”
[2] The Anti-Christ p. 184
[3] There are a couple of early summaries of Christian belief in the Bible itself. See 1 Cor 15:3-5, for example: 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
[4] This is a really brief summary of the Reformation which is one of the most interesting periods of history that anyone can study. See {Reformation}
[5] I frequently hear people use the word “Anglican” to mean a more formal style of church service, as in “that church is more Anglican than this (usually more laid-back) one is”. As we shall see from the Articles themselves, liturgical flexibility was already in place in Anglican thinking in the 1500s.


The Importance of Trusting and Adoring the Triune God

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

24 Q. How are these articles divided?

A. Into three parts: God the Father and our creation;
God the Son and our deliverance;
God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification.



2) Scripture

Psalm 115:1-9a:

1Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
2 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!

Comment:

The first thing the catechism draws our attention to in the Apostles Creed is its teaching of the trinity. All three persons of the trinity are mentioned: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Some people have the mistaken idea that the trinity is not too important for our lives. The longer I am a Christian the more valuable and dear to my heart is the teaching that God is triune! Knowing God as triune guides us. Knowing God as triune shows us how we should relate to God and to one another!

Psalm 115:8 gives us an important principle of our spiritual of our spiritual lives: We become like whatever we trust and worship! From all eternity the triune God has existed in loving relationship. God is love because before he created anything he existed in a relationship of love: Father, Son, and Spirit. Trusting and worshiping this triune God will cause us to also live a life of love.

From all eternity the triune God has also existed in a certain order. The Son, though equal with the Father, has always lovingly subordinated himself to his Father’s will. The Father sent the Son, and together the Father and Son sent the Spirit. There is equality and yet submission in the trinity. Trusting and worshiping this triune God will help us to learn to relate to one another as human beings.

As God’s image bearers we are all equal, and yet we relate to one another in God-ordained relationships that require authority and submission. Authority and submission is not a burden, but rather a delight when we take joy in imitating the triune God. Our imitation of the Lord our God brings him glory. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory!”


Discussion: What important principle of the spiritual life do we find in Psalm 115:8? Why could God not be loving from all eternity if he didn’t exist as one in three and three in one? There is equality and yet submission in the trinity---how do human beings imitate this equality and submission in their relationships?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Lord for his triune nature. Ask the Lord to help you to trust and adore him, so that you will become like him and bring him glory.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Apostolic Gospel


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


22 Q. What then must a Christian believe?

A. Everything God promises us in the gospel. That gospel is summarized for us in the
articles of our Christian faith---a creed beyond doubt, and confessed throughout the world.

23 Q. What are these articles?

A. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the
forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

2) Scripture

Ephesians 2:19-22: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Comment:

It is hard to overemphasize how important the gospel is! The gospel is the key that opens the door to our salvation. Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power for salvation: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Without the gospel we cannot be saved! 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 teaches us that it’s by continuing to believe the gospel until the end of our lives that we possess salvation: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

The gospel is apostolic. In other words, the gospel is the message that was preached and taught by the apostles. At the heart of the apostolic message or gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this sense, the gospel is a very narrow message. However, radiating out from this central message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are truths about the nature of God, the nature of man, the nature of the church, and the nature of the future! It is entirely appropriate that the central section of the Apostles Creed is about Jesus, for from him flows our understanding of God, man, the church, the future, and the Lord’s ways with human beings!

How does a church continue to stay apostolic? The Roman Catholics would say that staying apostolic comes about by loyalty to the pope, who is in the line of apostolic succession going back to Peter as bishop of Rome. We would say that remaining apostolic is a matter of staying true to the gospel that the apostles taught for the eternal comfort and salvation of sinners.

How important it is to get the gospel right! If you lose the keys you can’t enter the house! In a similar way, we can’t get into God’s kingdom or house without believing the apostolic gospel!

Discussion: Why is the gospel so important? How does a church stay true to the gospel? Is it important to go to a church that truly understands and teaches the apostolic gospel?

Prayer Starter: Thank the Lord if you go to a church that is true to the apostolic gospel. Pray for the gospel’s spread throughout the world.

Preparing for Church: The Sola Panel | Factotum #1 (continued)

The Sola Panel Factotum #1 (continued)

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

David, the christ, Shows us Jesus, the Christ

Search the Scriptures

Study 18 --- 1 Samuel 21:10-22:23

The way to read the biblical material about David is to realize that he is the Lord’s anointed or christ. As the christ, David points to Jesus who is the Christ.

Jesus tells us that the Scriptures are about him! The Scriptures are not about America, as if America was God’s covenant nation. The Scriptures are not about how to be happy and prosperous in this life (although knowing God will lead to true and ultimate happiness). The Scriptures are not about becoming wealthy, (although they can bring us true riches). No, Jesus tells us the Scriptures are about him. For example, in Luke 24:25-27, Jesus explains the Old Testament to his very dull disciples: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Part of Christian faithfulness is to learn to read the Bible the way Jesus and his apostles taught us to read it. The Old Testament, says Jesus, is about the Christ’s suffering and glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” says Jesus.

Sometimes we hear that the Jewish people at the time of Jesus were not to be faulted for failing to recognize him as the Christ, since they were expecting to see his glory and not his suffering. But if they would have paid close attention to their own Scriptures, they would have expected the Christ to follow the pattern of David, the christ. The fact is, David suffered before he entered his glory, so it was quite reasonable to assume that the Christ would follow the same pattern.

When we see in David this pattern of suffering and then glory as the christ, then this portion of 1 Samuel shows us much about Jesus, who is the Christ. Here are a few things we can learn about our Lord and Christ:

  • Christ is hated by the world. Just as David was opposed in Israel by Saul and his kingdom, and by Achish the king of Gentile Gath, so the world hates Jesus. This opposition by the world is seen most clearly at the cross, where the Jews and the Gentile Romans conspired to put Jesus to death.

    The apostle John defines the world, as we are using it here, as unregenerate humanity that has not yet bowed the knee to Christ. The world is characterized by pride and an idolatrous love of power, possessions, and pleasure. John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Christ’s people share the Father’s love for his Son, but the world is characterized by a different love.

  • Christ is joined by those who love him and are willing to forsake the world. David was joined by a ragtag group of followers according to 1 Samuel 221-2: “David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became captain over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.”

    How similar this group is to the way Christ’s people are described in 1 Corinthians 1:

    "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

    The people who joined David, the christ, were people who were willing to forsake Saul’s kingdom with all its advantages. Saul and his kingdom offered some advantages, which he spelled out in 1 Samuel 22:7: “Hear now, people of Benjamin; will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and vineyards, will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds.” Who would you rather have been with in 1 Samuel 22: Saul or David?

    Jesus, himself, said it was difficult for the rich to enter his kingdom. When the world offers so many temporal advantages, it is difficult to join oneself to Christ and to share in his suffering. For “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 4:12, but see 10-11 also).

    Why then should we throw in our lot with Jesus Christ, when the world hates him and disadvantages his followers? There are many answers. For one, we love him. We also know that he will ultimately win and his kingdom will last forever.

  • Finally, notice the difference in character between the world and Christ. In 1 Samuel 22, Saul foreshadows the antichrist. The word antichrist refers to one who is opposed to Christ. Saul was opposed to David the christ. The world is opposed to the Christ.
    Saul has shown his hatred and venom by his six attempts on David’s life in previous chapters. He has also shown that he hates those who are loyal to the christ, i.e., David. He tried to murder Jonathan, and in this chapter he murders Ahimelech, along with all the priests of Nob and their families. Ironically, Saul, who refused to completely destroy Amalek, now is willing to completely destroy Israel!

    Unlike the destructive character of the world in its hatred toward the Lord and his anointed, however, notice how tenderly David cares for his family and Ahimelech. David’s servant-like character is entirely different than that of Saul. What kind of king would you rather serve, David or Saul? Christ or Satan?

I am sure that this brief look at David, the christ, and Jesus, the Christ, the nature of the world, and the insignificance of Christ’s ragtag followers, has been difficult to read. We in America especially, want the church to be relevant and powerful. We want to be part of something culturally significant. We do not want to be despised and hated. We want the advantages the world offers in terms of position, power, and possessions.

And so, the reality of Scripture comes to us as a shock. How can these things be? We don’t want to believe Jesus is really hated by the world. We don’t want to believe the church is made up of mostly people who are not at all the shakers and movers of society. We don’t want to believe that we may have to suffer if we truly follow Christ.

We are a bit like Jonathan in chapter 20, who cannot bring himself to believe his father is seeking the life of David. Similarly, so many of us cannot seem to bring ourselves to see the reality of the world’s hatred of Christ and his people, nor that Christians are called to be conformed to their Lord’s suffering.

If you have trouble believing these things, but you have truly committed your life to Christ, then your experience will soon show you the reality of these things. Like Jonathan, when the spear zips by your ear, then you will experience a reality check.

But I would also urge you to look to the cross, for it is at the cross that our spiritual eyesight is restored. At the cross, as we see the world conspire against God’s anointed one, the Christ, we see its true nature. But at the cross we also see God’s true nature. For we see the love of the triune God, as the Father gives us his beloved Son, and the Son offers himself in love to the Father and us, as an atonement for our sins. The world’s hatred is dark and foreboding, but God’s love is bright, radiant, and full of hope. Let us dwell in that love, which is so much better than the hatred of the world.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One More Thought on Modern Theology

One further thought about modern theology's unwillingness to identify the Bible as the word of God:

There is a very simple reason we cannot accept Protestant Liberalism's denial of miracles, predictive prophecy, and the deity of Christ, just as there is a simple reason we cannot accept Neo-orthodoxy's view of Scripture as a mere record of religious experiences, but not the word of God.

Quite simply, the Bible is full of lies if Protestant Liberalism or Neo-orthodoxy are true. For the Bible presents miracle after miracle as actually happening in human history. The Bible claims to predict certain events before they take place in time. The Bible claims that Jesus is not merely a man, but God incarnate in a particular place and time. The Bible claims over and over again to be the very word of God. If modern theology is correct, then what we have is a book full of lies, and a book full of lies deserves to be ignored and despised. Such a book is certainly not to be trusted, even as a record of religious experiences.

"The Agony of Modern Theology"

Peter Jensen in his book, At the Heart of the Universe, writes, "Modern theology has abandoned a religion in which the word of God is identified with the Bible." A bit later in the same book he writes, "to obey his word is to obey him; to trust his word is to trust him; to repudiate his word is to repudiate him. You cannot strip him (God) of his word and him remain as he was. That is the agony of modern theology."

By "modern theology" Jensen is more than likely referring to Protestant Liberalism and Neo-orthodoxy. Both of these "modern theologies" have abandoned the identification of the Bible with the word of God. On the one hand, Protestant Liberalism stripped the Bible of its supernatural elements, such as miracles, predictive prophecy, and the deity of Jesus Christ. Neo-orthodoxy broke with Liberalism, but still refused to recognize the Bible as God's Word. Instead, the Bible could become the Word of God as a record of people's religious experiences.

Recently, I came across a book by Liberal professor and Jesus Seminar member, Marcus Borg. Borg's view is that "the Bible is a library of books . . . that, while of human origin, were written in response to real experiences of the divine. The Bible is sacred because of its centrality to a particular community, rather than any divine origin." And so, Borg continues this "agony of modern theology" with its antipathy to identifying the Bible as God's "breathed out" word (2 Timothy 3:16).

There are many problems with this modern theology which rejects the Bible as the Word of God. But Jensen put his finger on one of the most important problems when he says that "to repudiate his word is to repudiate him (God)." For, fundamentally, the triune God of the Bible is a speaking God. He is just the opposite of "dumb idols" who cannot speak. This speaking God has always ruled, not only his universe, but his people, by his word. And, when he sent his beloved Son into the world, his Son lived by every word that came from the Father's mouth (Matthew 4:4). Jesus answered every temptation from the enemy with the words, "It is written" (Matthew 4:4, 5, 7).

Sadly, modern theology's unbelief in God's written Word is nothing but a tired replay of Eden. Satan's strategy in the garden was to attack God's word by which Adam and Eve were to be ruled. By succumbing to the temptation to disbelieve and disobey God's word, the world was plunged into the colossal mess of sin and death in which we now exist. Modern theology* will do nothing to get us out of this mess, but will perpetuate and exacerbate man's spiritual darkness and death, until it comes to believe what Christ's church has always believed, namely, that the Bible is God's "breathed-out" word, which is profitable to bring us salvation, eternal life, and a new way of living in dependence "on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).


*Because so many mainline denominations are tied to this modern theology that has abandoned the church's long held view that the Bible is the Word of God, this also renders them ineffective in bringing salvation, eternal life, and a new way of living to people who so desperately need intimacy with the Father and the Son.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Lead Us Not Into Temptation --- Part Two

This is part two of Lionel Windsor's excellent article on the petition of the Lord's Prayer: "lead us not into temptation." In the second part of the article he quotes extensively from the sermon he preached on this petition. I have placed this portion of his article in italics. --Bill



Testing and God’s redeemed people

God never tests his people in the NT like he did in the OT. Christians certainly do undergo ‘tests’ in the NT, but these ‘tests’ are not an act of God ‘testing’ us to see if we will obey him, like a distant examiner or a suspicious husband. Christians never undergo special ‘tests’ such as God gave his people in the wilderness, but simply the ‘trials’ that are common to humanity (1 Cor 10:13), or the temptations of Satan (1Thess 3:5). God always provides a way of escape from these type of trials (1 Cor 10:13, 2 Pet 2:9). They are described like a refiner's fire, proving our trust in God and our willingness to follow Jesus (1 Pet 1:6, 4:12). In all these things, God’s attitude to us is always as a loving heavenly father, never as a ‘suspicious heavenly examiner’.

The book of James provides an extended commentary on the theme of testing, applying the ‘testing’ that Jesus mentions in his prayer to a Christian's everyday life with all of its economic inequalities—(modified ESV):

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet testings (peirasmois) of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a
flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under testing (peirasmon), for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tested (peirazomenos), ‘I am being tested (peirazomai) by God,’ for God cannot be tested (apeirastos) with evil, and he himself tests (peirazei) no one. 14 But each person is tested (peirazetai) when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.


Exposition of Matthew 6:13

Here, then, is the text of the first part of my sermon. I began with popular contemporary definitions of the word, ‘temptation’:

Our world is just full of temptation. Turn on the TV at 7 PM each weeknight, and you’ll have half an hour of ‘Temptation’. Here’s what the Channel 9 promo has to say:


‘Be tempted beyond your wildest dreams with Australia's most successful quiz show, temptation, the new Sale Of The Century … Temptation has new twists to the format that will increase the pace of the show and add more temptation for contestants. Fabulous prizes will include trips to Hawaii, Paris and Vanuatu, Volvo cars, Louis Vuitton luggage, plasma televisions, Versace watches, Internet fridges, jewellery, Bang and Olufsen and Pioneer home
entertainment packages, Harley Davidson motorbikes and giant cash jackpots!’


And it’s not just the TV is it? All around us there are temptations of the senses: food, chocolate, alcohol, internet pornography. Temptation is everywhere.

I then tried to help people realise that the Bible is not necessarily talking directly about the things we care about—it often has far more important things to teach us:

Now when we read the Bible, sometimes we can read it as if it’s talking directly about our own issues. So we might read this line, ‘lead us not into temptation’, and we think it’s a prayer asking God to miraculously guide our steps away from internet fridges and Harleys and hi-fat chocolate ice cream.

Of course the Bible is deeply relevant to our personal lives. But sometimes we need to just pause and ask ‘What exactly is the Bible saying?’ before we presume we know what’s it’s all about. You see; what, exactly what does Jesus mean by this word ‘temptation’? And what is so bad about it?

Do you notice that ‘lead us not into temptation’ is the only negative request in the Lord’s Prayer? All the others are positive, asking God to do something. ‘Give us our daily bread’, ‘Forgive us our sins’. But ‘lead us not into temptation’ is the only thing in this prayer that we specifically ask God not to do. It’s a serious thing. Surely it’s not just about game shows and chocolate?

I spent some time talking about the Old Testament background, because I wanted to define the word ‘temptation’ using the concrete biblical story rather than define it according to abstract terms or contemporary usage.

Well if you looked up any decent Bible Dictionary you’d soon find that the word ‘temptation’ is the same as the word ‘testing’ in the original language of Jesus’ day. A ‘test’ is something you do to somebody to see what they’re made of, to check out their performance. So another way of saying this line of the prayer is, ‘Lead us not into testing’.

I mentioned the Bible Dictionary to help people to see that the original languages are not actually beyond the reach of the ordinary lay person who attends church each week. Even if they can’t read Greek, they can all read a Bible Dictionary! They don’t have to rely on me to tell them what the word ‘temptation’ actually means.

But more than that, the word ‘testing’ is actually the name of a place in the Bible. There’s a place called ‘Massah’ in the Bible—and ‘Massah’ means ‘place of testing’. Massah is one of those places with a story behind it. There’s places like that in Australia. When Captain James Cook was exploring the East Coast of Australia in the 1700’s, his boat the Endeavour struck a reef, and nearly sank. He wasn’t a very happy sailor at the time. Now Cook was in the
business of naming places. So first thing next morning he looked out and saw a Cape. He called it ‘Cape Tribulation’. Behind it was a mountain. He called it ‘Mount Sorrow’. Up the coast, the place where they finally rested for repairs was called ‘Weary Bay’. They’re all places with stories attached to them.


And it’s the same with Massah (Exodus 16-17). Just to set the scene—God had just delivered his special people Israel, from slavery in Egypt. God parted the waters of the Red Sea, and the Israelites escaped from the Egyptians:

(Let’s read Exodus 14:30-31)


Now you’d think Israel would be grateful and would trust God after that amazing miraculous rescue. But no! The first thing Israel did on being rescued was to whinge! You see, on the other side of the Red Sea was wilderness, desert, and as soon as Israel got into the desert, they whinged that they were thirsty! Even though God had just parted the Red Sea, even though God had just shown them his awesome power over walls of water, they whined that
God couldn't give them a few mouthfuls of water in the desert! God gave them water—he was faithful. But next, they whinged about food. So God gave them bread, bread from heaven—he was faithful. But when he gave them the bread, he also gave them a test:


(Let’s read Exodus 16:4)

In the interests of time I compressed the story of Exodus and Numbers somewhat, just bringing out the salient points:

Then again, in the very next chapter, the people complained about being thirsty.

(Let’s read Exodus 17:2)


Again, they get their water—God was faithful. But Moses was fed up.

(Let’s read Exodus 17:7)

This is bad, this testing of God. Can you see why it is so horrible? God had saved this people. He had shown his unconditional, undying love for them. He’d carved up the ocean for them, for goodness sake! But there in the wilderness, the people wouldn’t trust him. They wouldn’t trust that God cared for them, that he would give them little things like food and water. They
complained, they tested. And God knew their hearts weren’t right. So instead of a relationship of love and trust it became a relationship of testing, of suspicion. It’s like God and Israel are a newlywed husband and wife, and on the honeymoon, the wife complains that her husband doesn’t love her and wishes she were back home, single again and the husband suspects something, so he sets up surveillance cameras and hires a Private Eye just to check up on her. On the honeymoon! At Massah, Israel tested God. God tested Israel. Mutual love turned into mutual suspicion.


And it didn’t end there. The whole Bible is full of references to Massah, to the place where the relationship between Israel and God turned sour as soon as it started. Look at Psalm 95, for example:

(Let’s read Psalm 95:7-11)

An explanation of Jesus’ successful recapitulation of the ‘story’ of Israel was needed before moving to application:

But when Jesus came, more than 1,000 years later, something wonderful happened. You see, Jesus succeeded where Israel had failed. In Matthew chapter 4, after Jesus is baptized (chapter 3), he comes out of the water. Let’s read from verse 1:

(Let’s read Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus is sort of reliving the experience of Israel. God’s Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted. It’s as if God led Jesus back into Massah. He didn’t eat for forty days. And he was hungry, starving. But Jesus didn’t do what Israel did in the desert. Jesus did the opposite of Israel. No complaining, no whineing The evil one came, the devil, Satan. He ‘tested’ Jesus. He lied. He tried to capitalise on Jesus’ weakness and hunger. He quoted the Bible at Jesus, verses
out of context, trying to get Jesus to stop trusting his Father. And what did Jesus do? He refused to test God. He trusted God, he served God, he worshiped God, even in this most extreme situation. He proved through his obedience that the relationship between him and God his Father is one of pure love. No suspicion. No testing required on either side.

Then we move on to talk about the relevance of Jesus for us and our situation, through his death on the cross:

What has that got to do with us? When Jesus died on the cross for us, he brought us into a perfect relationship with God. He brought complete forgiveness by his death. And he rose from the dead, to bring us life. He gives us a relationship with God as dearly loved children. The kind of relationship where God is pleased with us—because he is pleased with Jesus. A relationship with God where there is love, not suspicion; trusting, not testing.

And you can see that by the kind of prayer Jesus gives his disciples to pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of trust in God our Father. It begins ‘Our Father in Heaven’. You can only pray the Lord’s Prayer if you trust God as your heavenly Father, like Jesus did. You can only pray this prayer if you trust that God’s name is wonderful and holy (‘hallowed by your name’), that his
kingdom and his will is the best thing for us, that he will give us our daily bread, that he will forgive us our sins.

And so when you pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation’, you’re asking God to keep you trusting him, to stop you from doubting his loving care for you, to form you more and more as his child, just like Jesus.

Applying Matthew 6:13

Hence the prayer of Matthew 6:13 is a prayer of confident trust, asking God to keep us trusting his loving care for us. It is a prayer that God our Father will keep our focus firmly on his ultimate act of care and provision for us: the deliverance from sin provided by Jesus’ death on the cross. It is a prayer that, in the midst of the common trials of this life, God will help us remember that he is not distant from us, he is not standing back and testing us to see if we will obey, he is not inflicting these things on us as a test; but that he is lovingly refining us and making us more like his Son Jesus Christ. It is a prayer asking God to ‘give us our daily bread’, not to test us to see if we will obey him (as he did when he gave bread to the people in the wilderness), but simply to provide us with what we need as a loving heavenly Father. It is a prayer to deliver us out of the clutches of Satan, who lies to us, who tells us that God does not have our best interests at heart in the midst of these trials, who wants us to become suspicious of our Father and forget how much he loves us. The evil one wants us to think that we know best, and that God doesn’t love us as much as we love ourselves. We may not know exactly why we are suffering; like Job, we may never find out the precise reason for until the Lord returns - all we may know is that God is
compassionate and merciful in our suffering (James 5:11). But that is enough.

The application part of my sermon, therefore, was along these lines:

Of course, when life is easy it’s easier to trust God’s care for you, isn’t it? But how do you react when things are tough? When it looks like God’s abandoned you?

You see, in our life, things can sometimes look a lot like they did for Israel back at Massah. The Israelites passed through the Red Sea—they were saved from slavery and mortal danger. But out in the desert, they were thirsty. They were hungry. They knew God had saved them. But they felt that they had to test God to see if he was really still with them. They suspected that God had just brought them out into the desert to starve to death. You might be tempted to think the same thing. You might be confident that God has done the big things for you—saved you, died on the cross for you, given you eternal life. But you might start to think—that’s all very well, but does God actually care about me day to day? Especially when I’m hungry or thirsty or in pain, grieving, abandoned, used, persecuted, ripped off, depressed. You might start to think that God is testing you. That he’s fiddling with your life. Up there in heaven
with his computer watching you on the screen, and putting various tests in your way to see how you’ll react. Tempting you.


James has a lot to say about testing, trials and temptation (James 1:12-15). James tells us that God never tempts us. God is quite simply not like that. He is our heavenly Father, not our heavenly examiner. There are trials in our lives. But these trials aren’t tests from God to see if we’re worthy, as if he didn’t know already. No, they’re simply there to show to us and the world that we are God’s children. To make us more like Jesus.

But Satan, the evil One, is still hanging around, waiting to lie to us. Wanting to tell us that God doesn’t really care about us. That God doesn’t really know what’s best for us. Or if he does he doesn’t care, that he’s a meany who’s giving us these tests just to see what we’ll do. The greatest lie we can ever hear from the Evil One is that God doesn’t care for the people he saved, that God has saved us through the precious blood of Jesus … only to bring us in the desert to starve to death. Satan wants us to believe that we really should give in to the trial and just, well, just do what’s easiest, just sin, just give in to our own evil desires. And when we do that, when we suspect God’s goodness and stop trusting him, that is temptation. That’s why we need to pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’.

When would you need to pray, ‘Lead me not into temptation’?

Maybe you have accepted that Jesus died for you and brought you into heaven … But you still think your life is a desert wilderness, and you need stuff to fill up the void. You suspect God because you don’t trust that he will give you what you need. So instead of generosity and love, your life is about greed and holding on to things that you don’t really need. Satan is just as active in material things as he is in spiritual things. You need to pray, ‘Lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’


Maybe you are tempted when it comes to your relationships. Maybe you’re unhappy with whatever relationships you have, or unhappy because you don’t have a relationship that you long for. You may be single, widowed, divorced, married, friendless, unappreciated, just tired of giving. And you know that God has saved you from sin, and given you eternal life. But you suspect that he doesn’t really have your best interests at heart when it comes to these human
relationships. And you think he’s being mean; he’s saved you from the greatest enemy of all—sin and death—but he’s just brought you into a dry desert wilderness and he’s not going to give you anything to drink.


Of course, that can lead to disaster, can’t it? You are tempted to look for other ways to gratify your desires, ways that God hates. You join in with your mates when they drink too much so you’ll be accepted by them. Or you look for cheap thrills. But you don’t care because God doesn’t seem to care for you. You need to pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’, trusting God’s goodness, even in the desert.

Addiction can be a form of temptation too, can’t it? When you start to feel that some thing can look after you, or ease the pain, because you think that God doesn’t care. Whether it’s alcohol or pornography or sex or even food.

Of course, it might be helpful to take some active steps to remove these temptations from your life. Don’t watch the TV shows that provoke you to greed or lust. Put blocking software on your computer. Whatever. But the most important thing you can do is to pray.

And do you know, this is quite an amazing prayer? Because the act of praying is itself part of the answer to the prayer! If you ask God to not lead you into temptation, to help you to trust him, that prayer is itself an act of trust. When you talk to God, you trust him. And the more you trust, the less you suspect him of being mean, and the less you are tempted; because you know that God is good to you, even in the hard times.

You may not know why your life seems like a desert now. You may never know until the end of time. But we do know that God is our Father. And God is our Father because Jesus has died for us and made us God’s children.


As Paul says in Romans,

(Read Romans 8:34-39)

Resources

• Carson, D. A.. ‘Matthew’. Pages 1-599 in The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol. 8. Edited by Frank E. Gæbelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

• Hagner, Donald A. Matthew 1-13. Word Biblical Commentary 33A. Dallas: Word, 1993.

• Packer, J. I. ‘Temptation’. Pages 1532-33 in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by J. D. Douglas. Leicester: IVP, 1980.


The New Bible Dictionary article by Packer was very informative and a helpful synthesis of the data of both testaments. However, it did not bring out the biblical theological movement—the way that Jesus’ ‘testing’ is the lynchpin of the idea of testing in the whole Bible.

The two commentaries I consulted (Carson and Hagner) both (quite helpfully) cross referenced
a number of other NT and texts (Matthew 4:1-11; James 1; 2 Peter 2:9; 1 Cor 7:5; 1 Thess 3:5; Rev 2:10) and also Sirach 2:1, 33:1 to aid in their discussion of the verse. The main hermeneutical issue they discussed was whether the ‘testing’ was a future time of severe apostasy and trial (which they both rejected). However, neither commentary looked in any detail at the Old Testament background. This meant that there was very little to say positively about the verse. After reading these commentaries I could tell the congregation what the verse doesn’t mean, but not much about what it actually does mean.




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