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Archive for the ‘theology’ Category

Mark 2:1 And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This man and his friends were clearly determined to get a hearing with Jesus and their motivation seems clear enough—they believe Jesus can heal the lame. Of course if you read on you will find that Jesus did indeed make this paralytic man walk again but Jesus doesn’t begin by healing this man. Instead Jesus sees these men’s faith and says to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

This isn’t what the paralytic was looking for. Perhaps he had some sense of his spiritual condition as we are told that Jesus “saw their faith,” but the goal of this man and his friends is physical healing and Jesus instead redirects the conversation toward sin.

Sin is rarely a popular subject in conversation and yet Jesus leads this conversation with, “your sins are forgiven.” Tim Keller reflects on this passage in his book The King’s Cross:

Jesus is confronting the paralytic with his main problem by driving him deep. Jesus is saying, “By coming to me and asking for only your body to be healed, you are not going deep enough. You have underestimated the depths of your longings, the longing of your heart” (pp. 28).

Physical healing is not this man’s deepest need. Our deepest needs are spiritual. The human heart’s deepest need is to know its maker. Sin is our greatest barrier in seeing that need met. Only Jesus can bring the sort of healing we really need and he offers this freely to this paralytic. He offers it freely to us.

I praise the Lord that He doesn’t always answer my prayers in the way that I would like Him to because in so doing He promises to meet my greatest need. Every day Jesus meets my greatest need—to be restored to the Father—to be a child of God. Jesus meets that need every day because every day He “lives to make intercession for me” (Hebrews 7:25).

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Christianity ought to radically change the way that we see people and relate to them. As I am currently working through the parables of Jesus, I have been struck by how many of them address our relationships with people. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus intimates that all people are our neighbors–even the person we are most frustrated with (for the Jew that was the Samaritan). Further, Jesus is more concerned with us living like neighbors than determining who fits that bill. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus indicates that we should be reaching out in love to all people. Living in a kingdom that is upon us and yet awaits fulfillment (already/not yet) should open our eyes to see the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy in our midst.

The gospelradically changes the way we see ourselves and other people and how we relate to them.  Using the four gospel truths of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, here is a basic guide to poeple:

  1. Creation:  God created the world and he made it good–everything in it, including you and me, belongs to him. Every breath is a gift.
  2. Fall:  God’s good creation has subjected itself to corruption. We have sinned and what God made good has been broken.
  3. Redemption: God promises to fix his broken creation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ.  People who trust Christ are healed of their corrupt nature.
  4. Consummation: God will send Jesus back to finally redeem those who trusted him and he will finally and decisively make all that is wrong in the world right.

Seeing ourselves in the right light:

  1. 1. We are created beings. We have value.
  2. We are broken. There is much about us that isn’t good–we need to be familiar with this aspect about ourselves. Our nature has been corrupted in a way that we cannot fix by ourselves.
  3. We can be redeemed through Christ. Our corrupt nature can be done away with and replaced with a new one. We don’t deserve this–its the most marvelous gift.
  4. We are not yet what we will be.

Seeing other people in the right light:

  1. They are created beings. They have value. Not one is worth more than another.
  2. They are broken. We should expect them to fail and even hurt us at times.
  3. They can be redeemed by grace. No one deserves this–that is why everyone should hear about it.
  4. Those God saves he will perfect.

Seeing ourselves in relation to other people:

  1. You are created and therefore have value to offer other people.
  2. You are broken and thus have the potential to do great harm to people made in God’s image.
  3. You are saved by God’s grace. You don’t deserve this–its a gift so you are no better than anyone else.  This salvation does grant you a unique potential to bless others.
  4. You are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. God isn’t done with you yet.

This paradigm has the power to radically change the way we see people and relate to them. As C.S. Lewis said–humans are immortal beings–that changes everything. Christians ought to be the humblest of all people.

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“How should an artist begin to do his work as an artist? I would insist that he begin his work as an artist by setting out to make a work of art.” (Francis Schaeffer, 1912-1984)

Do you have God-given talents? Use them! I remember talking with Drew Maust, who is with Wycliffe Bible Translators, a while back on Bible translation. I asked him why do YOU do Bible translation, of all things? He is a gifted linguist, a sharp mind, and a follower of Jesus. What that basically comes down to is what he said to me in response: “This is what I was made for.” God as our Creator made us uniquely creative in many ways. In culture, we have culture-makers. Artists are culture-makers. Musicians are culture-makers. Scientists are culture-makers. Authors are culture-makers. Theologians are culture-makers. And the list goes on and on.

Because God made you, you are made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The ways in which you bear the image of God are where you, as a person, create, reason, live in community, work, and rule in ways that point to the Creator. God is the best gift-giver. He is the best culture-creator. He does the best work. He is in perfect community with himself within the Trinity. In every way, God is big “C” Creator. As for people, we are uniquely gifted as little “c” under-creators. This is evident in what is said in Genesis 1-2, for example, “Be fruitful and multiply,” and “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” One Old Testament scholar, John Sailhamer, believes the mandate of Genesis 2:15 is simply, “Worship and obey,” which sounds very similar to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question: “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

In view of the present subject, Genesis 2:15 then links worship and obedience with what we were created to actually do, and that isn’t completely lost in the Fall. Indeed the Fall was terrible, and we continue to see its pervasive effects on community, culture, the arts, the sciences, everyday life, and everything else. Without Christ as our Savior, we would be without hope and without God in the world. However, the Fall did not destroy the image of God that we carry. It effaced it, damaged it. But it is still there; and, therefore, every human being can still create, work, live in community, and make culture that points to the Creator who made us. The Fall distorts, damages, and hinders culture-making. And as fallen creatures, much of what is made in culture is in opposition to God; but I must make this point: Genesis 3:1-7 does not completely destroy Genesis 2:15 and the rest. And our imperfection even now does not either. This isn’t a question of whether the world is lost and unreconciled to God. Instead, it’s a question of whether human beings, as God’s image-bearers, can point to their Creator.

With that said, Christians are uniquely being restored by God’s re-creative work in total salvation. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) What we need to learn is to hold this verse, and the pre-Fall verses as well, in view of a Romans 7 humility. And in that, we should discerningly and faithfully determine in what ways we as Christians can be culture-creators who point the world to the Creator. Every human being is uniquely gifted and bears the image of God. Yes. And Christians are regenerate image-bearers, and uniquely gifted. As Christians, then, we should be engaged in the best culture-making! We should, in whatever we do as God’s regenerate image bearers, point the world to the Creator! Why? Because God cares about culture: the arts, the sciences, the academy, politics, “everyday” theology, community. He cares about high culture and popular culture alike, because they are part of the world God has made.

You may be incredibly gifted musically. Use your gifts! You may be imaginative with a gift for writing. Use your gifts! You may have a sharp brain, being gifted to work through complex issues and interpreting meaning in arguments. Use your gifts! Work on your gifts. Learn to use them even better. Do what you were made to do (like Drew Maust) to the best of your ability as God’s image bearers. Create culture, including popular culture, in a way that is creative, reasonable, workable, and that foreshadows our community together as a re-created people in Christ on a new heavens and earth.

Does that mean that you, as Christians, must make culture in a way that points the world to their Creator? Yes! Does that mean that you, for example, as a musician must only write hymns? No, although hymns are nice. Does that mean that you, for example, as an artist, must paint nativity scenes? No, that’s not it. What it means is that you were put here in the world as an image-bearer of God; now, as one who knows and follows Jesus, do what you were created to do. As a created being made by the Creator of all things, point to him in whatever you do.

In our next post, we will turn to consider what it means to live in the world while not becoming polluted by those things in the world which are in opposition to God. It will require some exegesis, so come ready!

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This thing which I have called the Tao, which others may call Natural Law … is not one among a series of of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value system than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.” -C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pp. 55-56.

 

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19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:19-25).

I have been thinking a lot about the local church lately—partly because I have been teaching on it and partly because I am fascinated by what the New Testament has to say about it.  In Nicaragua, I had the privilege of teaching pastors on Biblical church discipline—the practice of caring for the souls of the congregation—the NT’s emphasis on church discipline tells us that God has designed the local church to be a testimony of God’s grace to the world and its members to exercise genuine care and watchfulness over each other’s souls.

There is absolutely nothing like the local church.  The church universal is God’s global display of his life transforming grace.  The church local is one of the most profound experiences of that grace this side of eternity.

Hebrews 10 informs us of the value of the local church–it is the training ground for the age to come.  In the local church, God’s people are to “stir one another up to love and good works  . . . all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (vv24-25).

If the local church is the believer’s training ground in which to prepare for the Lord’s return, we ought to think very carefully about how we “do life” together in the church.  A huge part of doing life together as the church local is simply showing up.  The writer of Hebrews says one of the ways we stir one another up to love and good works is by “not neglecting to meet together.”  Apparently meeting together is one of the primary ways in which we prepare for the age to come.  If that is true—we ought to make every effort to get the most out of our corporate worship as a local church and give the most to those who gather with us.

Given the value of the local church and the command to stir one another up, I have been thinking about how we can make the most of our Sunday morning gatherings.  With that in mind, I came up with four suggestions as to how we might do that:

  1. Come to Church.  Seriously—I know this sounds silly but if you are not here regularly, its very difficult to encourage and build up the body as the NT commands us to (Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:13-30).
  2. Sing—sing and sing loudly!  No one is going to fault you for your lack of pitch—even if you can’t sing well, when others hear you sing, they will hear you singing God’s praises and rejoice and sing along with you.  I have found when I sing loudly, other people sing louder, perhaps out of desire to drown out my poor vocals, but nonetheless our singing should have a corporate feel to it as the Bible commands us both to sing to God and to each other (Eph. 5:19)!
  3. Talk to people—its difficult to “stir each other up” when we are mere spectators at church and are not utilizing this time to build relationships.  Some of my very best friends are members of our church, but sometimes I have to make a point not to spend all my time talking to them at church.  At church, I want to make a point to talk to people who I do not know as well.  Those who I am very close to will still be my friend if I don’t spend all my time at church talking to them and there are many wonderful, mutually encouraging relationships that can be built in our church if we will just step out of our comfort zone and talk to the people we don’t know as well.  Our church is small but just big enough for folks to fall in the cracks and miss out on mutually encouraging relationships.  Be intentional in your communication with people when we gather for corporate worship.  Instead of blaming others for their lack of interaction with you—why not seek them out.  You will only get out of church what you are willing to put into it.
  4. Make a point to let your fellowship extend beyond our corporate gatherings—as valuable as it is for us to meet together on Sunday morning, it is not enough.  We are to continually be encouraging one another and building one another up—that means our relationships ought to extend beyond what the settings that the local church provides.  Sign up for a community group and make a point to eat with people in our church to do fun things with them—make plans to go to a football game or to have lunch, go run, walk, or bicycle, play games together, it doesn’t matter what it is, but build relationships!  Invite a family you don’t know over for dinner—it may be awkward asking them because you don’t know them that well, but God will bless it because he promises to bless our obedience with His grace!

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If you didn’t know, I recently returned from a productive and encouraging short-term mission trip to Nicaragua.  There are many stories I could tell you about Nicaragua that would encourage you—stories that may even impress you—stories of how our team members got to share the gospel with hundreds of children in the local schools and stories of the many difficult questions that I was asked at the Pastor’s Conference or stories from our door-to-door evangelism and how the Lord was working to convict people of their sin.  However, perhaps the most memorable experience I had while in Nicaragua happened at a small Baptist Church in the rural area of Los Cedros—it was an invaluable lesson learned from Pastor Adonis.

When we went out into the communities of the churches we were serving at in Nicaragua, the pastors of the churches went with us and even brought members of their churches along so that they might learn to do evangelism and so that he might be used of the Lord to disciple them.  Pastor Adonis has a passion for evangelism and for discipleship.  He understands that the only hope the lost people in his community have is Christ and he understands that the members of his church must be the ones that tell their lost neighbors about Jesus.  There can be no evangelism without discipleship—if people are not trained to reap the harvest, they will not go out into it.  There can be no discipleship without evangelism first preceding it.  You cannot disciple the lost, you must share the gospel with them first, then the process of teaching them everything that Christ commanded can begin (Matt. 28:18-20).  Pastor Adonis was doing both—teaching the members of his church to do evangelism and doing evangelism himself, going out into the community and delivering the good news to the lost.

While I was greatly encouraged to see a pastor leading by example and seeking to disciple men in his church, this is not what stuck out to me most about Pastor Adonis.  What stuck out most was what Pastor Adonis said to the members of his church who were not doing evangelism.  Thursday night was the last night that we would spend at Los Cedros Baptist Church and Eric Hixon preached a revival there that night.  At the end of the service, Pastor Adonis opened up the altar for people to come and pray and he challenged those in his church who were not doing evangelism in the community to come to the altar and repent for their sin.  About 15-20 adult members of the church came forward and knelt at the altar in prayer.

If evangelism is a command, then it follows that neglect of evangelism is sin.  This really convicted me because far too often I fall to the temptation to think of evangelism as an optional practice.  I felt like I should be at the altar praying—I wasn’t invited though, Pastor Adonis only invited the members of his church as they were the ones who had covenanted together as a body to hold each other accountable to seek the Lord.  Perhaps Pastor Adonis’ encouragement to his people to repent for not evangelizing seems harsh and perhaps it was, but it was sweet moment for me.  It did not feel bitter, it felt redemptive and loving—I got the feeling that Pastor Adonis was calling his flock to repentance because he loved them.  I hope that is the case—I am praying that God would develop such relationships in my church—ones were we can lovingly call each other to account and ones in which we take the gospel and evangelism seriously.

Despite the fact that I got to spend three days teaching Pastor Adonis and several other Nicaraguan pastors, it goes without saying that I feel I gained much more from Pastor Adonis’ example and care for his flock.

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I am not a big fan of “church signs.”  I put that in quotations because of course I don’t have a problem with signs that inform people of church services or church locations etc.  What I do have a problem with is the trivializing of serious biblical truths that can be found on church billboard such as “Hell is hot, come on in we are prayer-conditioned.”  Despite my disdain for some of the sillier signs, every once in a while, I will come across one that I really like, this happened to me recently on the way home from running. The sign that I saw said this, “COMING SOON:  Jesus!”  I read that and I thought, “YES, my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ is coming again and he is going to raise me up to be with Him forever!”

Are you excited about the Lord’s return?  This is how the Bible ends:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21).

When John received the promise and vision of Christ’s glorious return to finally and fully redeem his children, he got excited.  He said, “Amen” which literally means “truly” or in more modern terms, “YES!”  “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Paul was excited about it too, when Paul wrote the Philippians, he was in prison and wasn’t sure if and when he would be executed, he said, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which shall I choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:22-23).  In other words, Paul is saying, if I got what I wanted, I would go to be with Christ.  Paul is saying here, “I want to be with Jesus, I long to be with Him for eternity!”  If you read on, Paul admits that it seems that God has more ministry in mind for Paul (thus he indeed live on in the flesh) and he submits himself to God’s will in that regard—there is no morbid longing to die in Paul, just a longing to be with Christ in a fuller way than he currently is.

This is a great question to ask yourself to gauge where you are spiritually—“do you long for Jesus to return?”  If not, what is keeping you from longing for that?  What is it that you want in this life that is keeping you from longing for Christ?  What do you want to experience this side of eternity that is keeping you from longing for Christ supremely?

When I was in high school and newly converted, I started dating a girl (neither of us were mature enough in our faith to be dating but that is another story) who from time to time would make comments like, “I hope Christ doesn’t come back before I have the opportunity to get married and have a family.”  At the time I suppose I sympathized with the sentiment, but I was also devouring the Bible at the time and Paul’s words, to “be with Christ is far better” seemed to contradict her sentiments.  So from time to time, I ask myself—is there anything keeping me from longing for Jesus to come back?  Are there things I think I would miss if Jesus came back now?  Those questions have helped me to identify idols in my life that are keeping me from delighting supremely in Christ.

If your heart’s desire is not, “come Lord Jesus,” why not?  Answering that question could be key in removing tremendous road blocks to growth in your walk with Christ.

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