Friday, May 31, 2013


"Paul's dramatic change from persecutor to persecuted, from nearly killer to nearly killed, is taken for granted by most people familiar with the story. It should not, however, be underestimated. Paul had been extraordinarily serious about his divine duty to destroy the dangerous messianic movement centered on Jesus and open to the Gentiles, which threatened the purity of Israel in its relationship to the God of the covenant. Zeal for Torah would mean opposition to any movement that might pollute Israel, such as the confession of a cursed criminal as Messiah (see Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13) or the admission of Gentiles into the covenant on the basis of anything, including faith in the gospel about Jesus, other than circumcision. He was now zealous for Messiah, not Torah.

"Paul's complete 180 turn is all the more remarkable when we recognize that he not only changed from being a persecutor of Christ to being a preacher of Christ, but also foreswore all vengeance and violence against enemies (Rom. 12:14-21). Moreover, his zeal to kill, metaphorically and perhaps literally, became a zeal to die, again metaphorically and perhaps literally. Without either psychologizing or oversimplifying, we may safely conclude that something like a life of 'cruciformity' --- of embracing a daily death (1 Cor. 15:31) --- was an inherent and inevitable dimension of Paul's conversion." --Michael Gorman

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Cross Is Apocalyptic

Carl Trueman writes these lines about a book by Andy Stanley: 
"For Paul, the offensiveness and irrelevance of the message of the cross demonstrate the fact that those who think in such ways [people who are not seeking the truth] are perishing. The problem is with them and with their ‘cultures,’ not with the cross. For Stanley, by way of contrast, it is the ‘culture’ which is to set the agenda and to which the church must thus conform or die." 

What I like about these lines is that they show us the truth that the death and resurrection of Jesus is apocalyptic. In the cross the end of this age is here; and in the resurrection the new age has come.

You can see Trueman's article here:

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Worthless Men"

"Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord" (1 Samuel 2:12).

It is worth noting how the Lord views people.  While our society is uncomfortable calling anyone "worthless", apparently the Lord is not.  People were made to know the Lord, to serve the Lord, and to live their lives for his honor.  When they do not, they make themselves worthless, for they do not fulfill the purpose for which they were made.

Something else we learn from this is that there is a connection between knowing the Lord and integrity.  Samuel's sons did not know the Lord and this lack of knowledge and relationship affected their behavior.  Three wicked things characterized their behavior: greed, sexual immorality, and the defilement of worship.  These same three sins characterize American society.  The only solution to these three sins is to turn from our sins and turn to the Lord once more as he is revealed in Scripture. The Father longs to be gracious to us in his Son.  May the Lord Jesus cause his baptized people to turn to back to him once more.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I'm Coming Out!

I am announcing to relatives, friends, and society that I am coming out.  For a long time---for as long as I can remember---I have struggled with certain desires, inclinations, and passions.  It is time to follow these desires wherever they may take me.  God created me this way, and I see no reason for not following my own heart, mind, will and understanding.  It is time for me to be sovereign and take charge of my life.  If my family, friends, or society will not accept me and my decision, then they will be deleted from my life.  I will not be bullied by unloving people who might try to change my mind.  I will lobby for the acceptance of my lifestyle, and anyone who opposes my view will be called an autonophobe, i.e., one who is afraid of autonomous people.

The paragraph above is fictional, but I write it to illustrate the true nature of what is happening when homosexuals come out of the closet, and how their position is apostate and the default position of the human race.  In the brief article below, I will try to show why this homosexual position is a falling away from the Lord and why those who accept the position are, in essence, joining homosexuals in this falling away.  I will also try to show how the gospel is the only hope for moving all of us out of our apostate condition into the grace and glory of knowing Jesus Christ, who is the crucified Savior, risen Lord, and perfect Husband.

I begin by a expressing my oneness with all my fellow sinners, including homosexuals.  As a Christian, I understand the battle between the Spirit and the flesh (the sinful nature).  Believers in Christ understand and feel this battle, because the spiritual battle intensifies when anyone is converted to Christ and no longer blithely follows his own heart.   I don't speak from a distance or only from theory, for the battle for a believer is intense and personal.  I struggle each and every day with certain desires, inclinations, and passions.  I am daily tempted to follow my own heart, mind, will and understanding, instead of following Jesus Christ and his Word.  I often fail and give in to these temptations, for the battle is intense and real.  When I am defeated and injured in the battle, I need the balm of Christ's forgiveness and grace, which he is faithful to apply by his Word, and through the Spirit.

But why is the homosexual position apostate?  Why is the homosexual position a falling away from the Lord?  Why is coming out, and the unconditional acceptance of that coming out, a falling away from the Lord?  The reason it is apostasy is because it denies the fundamental building blocks of the Christian faith: creation, the fall (sin), salvation, and glorification.  Let's look at how acceptance of homosexuality denies these basic tenets of the Christian faith.

First, the homosexual position and its acceptance denies the doctrine of creation.  The Christian position is that God created all things by his word.  He spoke and it came to be.  The doctrine of creation shows us that God relates to his creation by words.  These words have been inscripturated, and the divine Word has been enfleshed.  To deny the authority of God's Word is to deny creation and the basic reality of how God relates to the world he made.

Second, the homosexual position and its acceptance denies the doctrine of sin.  Though God's creation through his Word was good, sin entered the world and marred his good creation.  The entrance of sin into the world is what we call the fall.  By following his own heart, rather than God's Word, man fell away from the Lord and was estranged from him.  The essence of sin is to follow one's own heart, mind, will, and understanding rather than God and his Word.  The homosexual position and its acceptance denies the reality of sin, and claims that what comes from man's sinful heart is good and is part of God's good creation.  Instead of following the Lord and his Word, the homosexual position makes the human heart, the human self, sovereign.  Thus, the doctrine of sin is denied, for sin is the transgression of God's Word.

Third, the homosexual position and its acceptance denies the doctrine of salvation.  If there is no sin---if every desire that comes out of man's heart is good and should be followed---then obviously there is no need for salvation, nor must we follow the commands of our risen Lord.  The eternal Son of God died and was enthroned for no purpose, if man is good and our hearts are sovereign.   If man is good, then there is no need for the new birth from above. Thus, the homosexual position and its acceptance denies the need of salvation from sin and the consequences of sin, which is eternal death.

Fourth, the homosexual position and its acceptance denies the doctrine of glorification.  Glorification or consummation is the hope that one day the risen Lord Jesus Christ will return to judge and bring forth a new creation.  Jesus will bring a new heaven and earth, and sin and the consequences of sin will be eliminated.  Justice, righteousness and peace will be established and God's people will be married to their Savior and Lord and will share his glory.  But the homosexual position denies this hope to people, for it denies that homosexual acts are sinful, despite what God's Word says.  Thus, there is no need of salvation from these sins, and if there is no salvation, then there is no hope.

Finally, a word about love.  Is love simply the unconditional acceptance of a person or is love a desire for what is best for a person, as God defines what is "best" in his Word?  Must love be aligned with truth?

The Christian answer is yes.  Love and truth are not to be separated.  It is loving, not unloving, to desire that sinful people return and be reconciled to God.  All of us are born in the default position of being far from God.  Like Adam and Eve who fled at the sound of God's presence and the prodigal who wanted to live far away from the father, sinners want to live far away from the Lord and his Word.  But true love calls sinners to return and live near to the Father, no longer distrusting his Word.  True love wants what is best for people, and people were created to be in relationship with God through his Word, both the written Word and the eternal Word.

But can we trust God's Word?  Yes, for the written Word points us to the incarnate Word, and the incarnate Word is our loving Bridegroom.  Sexuality is an imaging act.  For that reason, God limits sexuality to married men and women.  But earthly marriages are not forever, but point to the true marriage between Christ and his people.  That marriage will be joyful and perfect because our Husband is perfect, and when he returns he will cleanse us from all our corruption.  By nature all of us are sexually immoral and unfaithful, no matter what our inclinations were or are.  Our hope is in our Husband, in his cleansing blood, breathed out life, and union with him.  May we not take that hope away from homosexuals or anyone else by denying creation, sin and salvation.  Amen.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Have Salt in Yourselves"

"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
--Mark 9:49-50

I have been pondering this statement by the Lord, particularly the command: "Have salt in yourselves."  It seems to me that in the narrow and broad context of Mark 9, salt is a symbol of judgment.  In what sense are Christians supposed to carry in ourselves judgment?

Salt in the Old Testament was associated with the animal sacrifices, as salt was added to them.  Sacrifices, of course, were judgments: on our sin and on what our sin deserves, namely, death (separation from God).  The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was judged in our place, so that we can be free of God's judgment and live in his presence with joy and peace.

Therefore, when Jesus says, "Have salt in yourselves," he is saying something about our identity in Him.  The Christian is so closely joined with Jesus Christ that when he died we also died with him.  When he was buried we also were buried with him.  When he rose we also rose with him.  When he was judged and condemned, our old selves were judged and condemned with him.  Having salt in ourselves is to view ourselves as having died with Christ, so that we might live a new kind of life.  By repentance we judge ourselves and agree with God's verdict that our old selves are deserving of death, just as the cross clearly showed.  By faith we rise with Christ and live a new kind of life in fellowship with the Father and the Son.  In short, the statement, "have salt in yourselves," is very similar to Paul's statement about believers that we are "always carrying in the body the death (the judgment) of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies."

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Importance of Understanding our Time

Nothing can be more important than understanding the times in which we live, but where will we go to understand our time?  What is the key to rightly understanding our time? Will we go to the news channels and watch to find out about our time?  Will we go to school to study to find out about our time?  Will we go to the sociologist and their surveys to understand our time?  Or, will we be truly wise and go to God's Word to understand our time?  Will we let God's Word be the key to our understanding of the time we now live in?  Here is what I am learning as I look at God's Word to understand our times.

Lately, I have been noticing a theme in Scripture, and particularly in the Psalms.  I am amazed at how often I am running across the theme of judgment in the Psalms, and I am surprised at how joyful the righteous are as they hope for the Lord's coming judgment!  How can the righteous be so joyful as they anticipate the Lord's coming judgment?  Psalm 98:4-9 is an example of the joy that the prospect of the Lord's judgment brings:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

How can the righteous be so joyful as they anticipate the Lord's coming judgment? A large part of the answer for believers who live after the cross is this:  we can be joyful because Jesus bore the judgment of God in our place.  Jesus has taken away the judgment of God that we deserve because of our sin.

But the Lord's judgment is only joy-inducing if one has received Jesus as Lord.  This is why the New Testament pleads with people: "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).  

We live in what God's Word tells us is the last hour (1 John 2:18).  Judgment has already come to the earth in the baptism Jesus endured at the cross.  But one must make a decision about Jesus one way or another, for no decision is a decision.  He must be received as Lord if we are to avoid the judgment of fire he will bring at his return.  This fire of judgment is already kindled (see Luke 12:49-53), and that is why those who are wise will flee to Jesus.  

Jesus came to baptize all people in either the Spirit or fire.  Luke 3:16 says, "John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."  We live in the last hour --- the time when decisions are made.  Which will it be for us: the baptism of the Spirit or the baptism of fire?  How important it is for us to understand the time in which we live!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Christian Themes in the Great Gatsby Movie

We went to see the movie, "The Great Gatsby" last night. It was really enjoyable. I was particularly struck by all of the Christian themes in the movie, things like God's omniscience, his judgments, the vanity of the world, the purpose of life, the two cities, hope for a better country that exists outside of this world, Gatsby as a Christ-figure, marriage as a picture of our marriage to Christ, etc. While the movie only raises these questions, the Christian knows the answers to them because the Word and Spirit has enlightened us. Yes, God will judge all people and his wrath does fall on sinners in time and eternity. Yes, all things are vanity, because we have lost our connection to our true husband. Yes, there is a purpose to life, and it is to know the Father and Son and enjoy his light and life. There is a better Christ figure than Gatsby, one who died for his bride, so that she might devote herself to Him and enjoy the riches of every spiritual blessing. There is a better city than this world, and how sad that people are now enmeshed its rebellion and vain pleasures because of their fear of death. Our Lord takes away the fear of death by his death, and gives us eternal life, now and in the future, so there is hope. A great movie to consider from a Christian point of view! I now feel compelled to read the book!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dependence Versus Independence; Sheep Versus Goats

I was reading in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery this morning and came across these lines about goats, and thought it was interesting: 

"In contrast to sheep, goats are savvy, self-reliant, an image of the worldly-wise. Goats are those who don't need God. He will have no need of them, but will separate them from his sheep (Mat. 25:32)."

Human beings need the triune God, for we were made for Him.  If physically we need air, how much more do we need the breath of God's Spirit.  If physically we need bread, how much more do we need Jesus who is our daily bread.  If physically we need clothing, how much more do we need to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ.  If physically we need to bathe, how much more do we need to be cleansed from sin by the shed blood of Christ.  If physically we need a house to live in, how much more do we need to live in the heavenly Father's home.  Only goats believe they are self-reliant.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Biblical Advice for Those who Design the Liturgy

Every church has a liturgy or order of service.  Even non-liturgical  churches have a liturgy or order of service.  The question about liturgy is not whether we will have a liturgy, but whether or not our liturgy is biblical, a blessing to the people involved, and glorifying to God.  In this article I want to give some biblical advice to those who are involved in planning the liturgy.
  1.  Jesus Christ is the main actor in worship, coming to us to teach and give us his forgiveness and life.  Until we know the main purpose of something, we are ill equipped to plan and design it.  A common fallacy in the church is that we are the main actors in the worship service, coming to give God praise and thanks.  While giving thanks and praise to Jesus is a purpose of our gatherings on the Lord’s Day, it is not the main purpose.  First of all, we come to hear Jesus’ teaching and to receive his life.  Our praise, thanks, and petitions are a response to his words and gifts to us.

  2.  In worship we need to behold the glory of Jesus and this comes through the gospel against the backdrop of the law.  True worship of our Lord takes place when we see Christ’s glory.  But how can we see his glory?  The answer was given to Moses, who asked to see the Lord’s glory.  In response, the Lord preached a sermon to Moses about his grace against the backdrop of his judgment (see Exodus 33:18-20; 34:6-7).  That pattern continues in the church, as it proclaims the gospel that saves us from the law and its threats of judgment.  

    Our tendency today is to get rid of judgment.
      We shy away from reading lament Psalms and imprecatory Psalms and portions of Scripture that speak of God’s judgment.  But we need to remember that God saves no one apart from judgment!  We are saved because God’s Son bore our judgment, and because we receive the salvation he earned for us by concurring with God’s judgment of us, confessing that we are sinners who deserve his wrath, and fleeing to the mercy we find in Christ.  Just as it was true for Moses, so it is true for us: the glory of Jesus Christ and his grace can only be seen against the backdrop of judgment.

  3. The pattern of our meetings is teaching then a meal, the word then life, teaching accompanied by signs.  Just as Jesus’ pattern in the Gospels was to teach then heal or teach then eat with his disciples, so this same pattern is followed in the liturgy.  The early church understood this pattern and structured the liturgy into two parts: the service of the Word followed by the service of the table.  This pattern did not appear out of nowhere, but was the pattern Jesus gave his disciples, namely, the pattern of teaching followed by signs or a meal.  

    In the Lord’s Supper the bread and the wine make up the meal, and they are also signs of our Lord’s body and blood.
      By not divorcing what our Lord has joined together (teaching and signs/meal), we begin to understand that the kingdom of God is not just words but also the life and power of the resurrected Christ communicated to his people, experienced in our worship by faith.  Just as Jesus taught his first disciples and gave them his life, blessing, and power, so he continues his powerful ministry in the church each Lord’s Day as he teaches his people and gives them his life as the Spirit lifts us to heaven to commune with our risen Lord.

  4. Confession of sins and assurance of pardon meets the pastoral need of the flock and teaches us our need of a mediator.  One of the first elements of the divine service is confession and assurance, because when we come into the holy, triune presence we will sense our unworthiness.  Just as Peter sensed his unworthiness and said, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” so we too will often times come with a burden of sin that the confession and assurance can remove.  When we come into the presence of our holy God, we come through the mediation of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice allows us to enter into the courts of heaven.

    There are a few of problems that should be avoided in this part of the liturgy.

    Sometimes confessions are too specific, dealing with particular sins that a good portion of the congregation may not share.
      For example, if the confession only focuses on one sin, like self-righteousness or greed or gossip, this will not be of help to many believers who are not guilty of those particular sins, at least at this moment in their lives.  It is much better to use a general confession that confesses our sins in thought, word, and deed and that highlights the deeper problem of original sin that still clings to us.  

    Another problem to be avoided is the idea that we should only use Scripture in our confession and assurance.
      While our prayers should be biblical, to insist that we only use Scripture in this part of the service is about as silly as saying we should never use the word trinity because it is never used in Scripture.  

    Finally, we can be creative in this part of the service by singing the confession, by varying the prayers we use or by a responsive reading.
      This is a part of the service that can be meaningful if we plan and lead it wisely, and it is a chance for us to see the glory of Christ as we see his grace against the backdrop of judgment.

  5. We are commanded to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture: “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13).  Our generation has jettisoned the public reading of God’s Word more than any generation in history, and we need to ask ourselves if we can square this with the devotion we are commanded to have according to 1 Timothy 4:13.  Traditionally, the church has had five Scripture readings each service, from: the Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels. 

    The loss of the Psalms and the Gospel readings in our church services is especially grievous, for the Psalms teach us about the character and ways of God, correcting our faulty notions about him, while the Gospels are the culmination and fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, teaching us how Christ is the telos or end of the entire Bible.  We get rid of this means of grace to our own harm.

  6. We must rethink our use of individualistic language (I, me, my, and mine) in our songs for the sake of the consciences of believers, catechumens, and unbelievers and because Jesus commands the use of corporate language (we, us, and our).  Our Lord taught us to use the first person plural in our prayer together, and certainly prayer includes praise, thanks, and petitions---the elements of most of our songs.  Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”  

    When we hear individuals lead us in prayer during our worship, they invariably (and rightly so) use corporate language rather than individualistic language, but in our songs, we have followed the lead of our culture and the contemporary Christian music scene, rather than our Lord.

    One important reason for not using individualistic language is that it is manipulative and insensitive to the consciences of unbelievers in our midst, or even believers, for it puts words on lips that are not yet true of some.
      Corporate language protects the conscience and helps people to grow into the language of Christian devotion.

    I also have not found any examples of corporate worship in either testament that uses
    I, me, and my language.  Now, granted there are not tons of examples of corporate worship in Scripture, but so far I have not found any individualistic language in books like Chronicles or Revelation where we see some examples of temple worship and Christian worship.

  7.  Music is not a sacrament, but a servant of God’s Word and our response to it.  As long as we have a view of music that is unbiblical, we will continue to design liturgies that hinder our Lord from teaching us and giving us his life (not a trifling sin!).  Our Lord Jesus teaches us and gives us his life through the Word (read and preached) and through the Supper.  Music is not a means of grace like the Word and the Supper.  

    When we learn what the early church was devoted to in Acts 2:42, conspicuous by its absence, is music: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
      While teaching and the Supper (“the breaking of bread”) are mentioned, music is not.  Music’s place is defined by teaching, fellowship, and prayer.  Music serves as either God’s words to us (teaching), our words to God (prayer), or our words to one another (fellowship).  In other words, it has a ministerial or servant role in the liturgy.

Dear brothers and sisters, please consider these things carefully.  Examine the Scriptures to see if they are true.  Hebrews 6 is a passage that is often overlooked with regard to its teaching about worship and its power, because we so often focus on the debate about its contested meaning.  But most agree that the means of grace, teaching and the Supper, are mentioned, and please note their power: [we] “have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.”  Would it not be an awful thing for us to hinder this power of the risen Christ in our services, by our unwise liturgical practices?  May the Lord Jesus Christ grant us help and wisdom in this matter for his glory and our good.  Amen.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Trusting the One Mightier than the Waves of the Sea

Psalm 93

The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
2 Your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
5 Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore.

One of the wonderful things about the Psalms is that they teach us about God and give us his perspective, and his perspective alone is synonymous with reality. Without this word from the outside, we inevitably drift along with the world and whatever is fashionable to it at any moment.

The world, as Psalm 93 teaches, is like a restless sea in its rebellion against God. In the Bible, the sea and its waves is a symbol of evil, disorder, and rebellion. In this era between our Lord's first and second comings, Jesus rules in the midst of this rebellion. He allows men and nations to rage against him and his righteous decrees, but their rebellion is never outside his sovereign control---remember that our Lord walked on the waves in the midst of the storm. One day, the Lord will return and end the rebellion---remember that our Lord stilled the waves of the sea by his word. The end of man's rebellion against the Father and the Son is symbolized at the end of the book of Revelation when it says, "and the sea was no more" (Rev. 21:1). But in the mean time the Lord watches over his people as they walk in a world that is wicked. We can trust him to do this because he is, as the Psalm above teaches us, "mightier than the waves of the sea!"

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