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Saturday, December 31, 2005

For 2006

Psalm 119:9-16 [continuous text with footnotes]:

How can a young man keep his way pure? By akeeping it according to Your word. With aall my heart I have sought You; Do not let me bwander from Your commandments. Your word I have atreasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord; aTeach me Your statutes. With my lips I have atold of all the bordinances of Your mouth. I have arejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, 1As much as in all riches. I will ameditate on Your precepts and 1regard bYour ways. I shall 1adelight in Your statutes; I shall bnot forget Your word.

'glitter

a 1 Kin 2:4; 8:25; 2 Chr 6:16
a 2 Chr 15:15; Ps 119:2, 145
b Ps 119:21, 118
a Ps 37:31; 40:8; Luke 2:19, 51
a Ps 119:26, 64, 108, 124, 135, 171
a Ps 40:9
b Ps 119:72
a Ps 119:111, 162
1 Lit As over all
a Ps 1:2; 119:23, 48, 78, 97, 148
1 Or look upon
b Ps 25:4; 27:11; Is 58:2
1 Lit delight myself
a Ps 1:2; 119:24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174
b Ps 119:93

New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ps 119:9). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.



Thursday, December 29, 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Silent, Holy Night

loves' pure light randiantly beaming from Thy Holy Face . . .

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"He sees, but does not understand"

"The Bible alone explains the state of things that we see in the world around us. There are many things on earth which a natural man cannot explain . . . the amazing inequality of conditions, the poverty and distress, the oppression and persecution, the shakings and tumults, the constant existence of uncured evils and abuses--all these things are often puzzling to him. He sees, but does not understand. But the Bible makes it all clear. The Bible can tell him that the whole world lies in wickedness--that the prince of the world, the devil, is everywhere--and that it is vain to look for perfection in the present order of things. The Bible will tell him that neither laws nor education can ever change men's hearts, and that no man will do much good in the world, unless he always remembers that human nature is fallen, and that the world he lives in, is full of sin."

(J.C. Ryle, "Inspiration" 1877)

See also "Ministerial Confessions" by Horatio Bonar.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

B.I.B.L.E., Being Baptist and Bubba Gump

This last Sunday, my wife, three of our five children and I had the opportunity to visit a special Sunday School class. The class was held at a home/hospital/detention center for children who, for one reason or another, have been removed from their regular home situation and are under a level of specialized care (another blog entry may possibly serve to deliver the details of that event). One child in particular was very quick to provide good answers to about every question asked, racing ahead of the almost-flustered volunteer who brought the lesson. At one point, the young boy (perhaps no more than 10 years of age) thought to impart some information he felt we all should know, volunteering loudly, “I know what the Bible is!” He had my attention! He proudly recited, “The Bible is:

B asic
I nstructions
B efore
L eaving
E arth”

I could only sit agape as for a brief second as I flew through the corridors of time, catching a glimpse of Jesus sitting in the temple amazing the teachers with his answers. I saw a similar scene once before in an airport as one of my children (I think she was about 6 or 7) sat on the floor during a long layover surrounded by three Orthodox priests in their long flowing robes, large iconic crosses hanging over their long flowing beards, listening intently as she explained (in detail) the life of Christ as she understood it. All they could do was listen as all she could do was talk.

[You know, the problem with taking off down a rabbit trail early on is that it seems like it’s the main path . . . from the “what it’s worth” department . . .]

This morning I was prompted to think on a unique feature of the Bible that has been very obvious for some time, but at the same time is very peculiar. The peculiarity is that it may be said that God never does the same thing twice. Erickson says, “Once the Passover or the crossing of the Rea Sea or the contest on Mount Carmel had occurred, there was the danger that its value for those who were not present might have been lost. God will not repeat an event over and over for each person who will ever live.”

On the other hand, considering the act of revelation, we understand that God’s actions alone are not relegated to simply “adventures”. We understand plainly that God spoke directly to the human race, has communicated specifically through direct action, and has come into human history without ceasing to be God. “God, who at many times and in many ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.” (Heb 1:1-2).

Someone described it this way: you don’t know what is on my mind unless I say it, when I open my mouth, the word(s) that come out reveal who and what I am on the inside. So, what was on God’s mind? When He opened His mouth, Jesus came out. When Jesus opens His mouth, a two-edged sword come out.

This is why scripture says, “Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye, nor desire his dainty foods; for as he thinks in his heart, so is he; Eat and drink, he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” (Prov 23:6-7).

God made it a point to have events recorded in scripture so that the value of the experiences would not be lost. But let’s be perfectly clear: the Bible is not merely a record of past events. It is revelation itself—and current. What I mean by this is, though the Passover event will not happen again (for example), the author of the whole of scripture intends that we understand it. The unique feature of scripture is the progressiveness of all it contains and the culmination of all things in the Supreme Revelation, in Christ Himself, the living Word of God.

When we return to the question, “Does it matter what I believe?” one must also consider the role of authority. One striking feature of my Baptist Heritage is that since the 17th century, Baptists have proudly claimed the centrality of scripture as the standard for life and godliness. The “striking” part comes when we realize that Baptists as a whole represent the full range from Arminianism to Calvinism. You got yer General Baptists and Particular Baptists, National Baptists, Progressive Baptists, American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Conservative Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Soveriegn Grace Baptists, Separatistic Fundamental Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Strict Baptists, Six-Principle Baptists, Missionary Baptists . . . (and if I forgot any, I am really, Really, REALLY sorry). How can this be?

"Baptists are like a box of chocolates."


You got yer John the Baptist, Smyth the Baptist, Helwys the Baptist, Murton the Baptist, Grantham the Baptist, Williams the Baptist, Bunyan the Baptist, Keach the Baptist, Gill the Baptist, Fuller the Baptist, Taylor the Baptist, Cary the Baptist, Boyce the Baptist, Broadus the Baptist, Spurgeon the Baptist, Strong the Baptist, Mullins the Baptist, Fosdick the Baptist, Hobbs the Baptist, Criswell the Baptist, Patterson the Baptist, Mohler the Baptist, ad infinitum . . .

How can the Bible be so foundational and have such a wide range of liberty? Well, that’s the key, isn’t it? As far as Baptist life is concerned, we are “people of the book” and it does matter what we believe. But because of this thing called “liberty of conscience” we are able to enjoy a wide range of its application. We say “The Bible is Core” with Calvinistic force, yet “give me liberty” with an Arminian refrain. Most people don’t know this, but John Smyth, one of the significant “founders” in Baptist history had such a high view of scripture that he did not allow the reading of the Bible in public worship—it was too lofty for public reading! Besides, he felt that since English was NOT the language of inspired scripture, it should be read in the original Greek and Hebrew. The problem was that the general public “does not speke Greke and Hebrue”, so the public reading of a translation was to demeaning. Yet, here we are—“people of The Book!”

Here is the rock-bottom issue: the Bible is God’s written Word. Jesus is Lord and believing what He says matters. Working out the finer details keeps us from stagnation on the one hand, while on the other keeps us functioning as a body, each with talents and abilities contributing to the whole. In short, controversy demands Christian attitude and brotherhood. This is where reason is held in check and prevented from becoming authoritative. Controversy keeps us running back, running back, running back to search and find out, using reason to investigate and handle the evidence presented as the Word of God. Reason is not to be used to determine what is true or to filter what affirms my liberty—the scripture tells me what I am free to do! As someone said, the Bible is a book of “do’s”, not a book of “don’ts” and if you do all the “do’s” you don’t have time to do the “don’ts” and if you could, you wouldn’t, and you can’t, so you don’t, so it’s cool!

The cool thing about the Bible is that it shows us what will never do again. Yet, those very things are the pattern for the very things He keeps on doing—God saves and this is seen over (in the types) and over (in the symbols) and over (in the leaders He raises) and over (in the people who need His help) and over again.

Would we benefit if God thundered down directly from Heaven into our ears? Yes, but since He already has, we benefit.

Would we benefit if God slipped into our bedrooms and dreamed us a message? Yes, but since He already has, we do.

Would we benefit if God became flesh and dwelt among us? Yes, and since He already has, we do.

We need to get accustomed to the idea that we live in mystery, not in contradiction. Jesus is fully God and fully human. The Bible is a divine and human book. The events it records are unique, yet the pattern shows otherwise--God created and makes new creations in Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Matters

“What’s on your mind?” the psychiatrist asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” replied the physicist.
“What is matter?” prodded the psychiatrist.
“Never mind” replied the physicist.

**************
“Does it matter what I believe? If I love Jesus, isn’t that enough?” These are questions that seems to echoing through the age. But are these good questions? Perhaps the first question is inadequate. What is “it” that “matters?” Perhaps a better way to ask the question would be, “If I love Jesus, what I believe matter?”; or, “Is my love for Jesus enough to have a bearing on what I believe?”

If one were to ask Jesus, He would say that belief has everything to do with love that is bound up in Him. Jesus answered this question three times, saying plainly:

  • If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (Jn 14:15);
  • He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him." (Jn 14:21)
  • "If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." (Jn. 15:10).

Tied directly to love for Jesus are His commandments. If one does not love Jesus, then his beliefs reflect what he loves. An incorrect belief system evidences inappropriate love. Jonathan Edwards would say to the effect that true religion is vigorous to cling to its object of passion[i]. Millard Erickson states that beliefs are in direct correlation to the person of our faith.

Love alone for Jesus is not enough. Something must be done about love and that “something” is obedience to His commandments. Since His commandments tell us what to believe, then all we do in obedience matters. If our love for Jesus alone were enough, then all God needed to do was peer over the precipice of heaven, whisper to sinful humanity, “I love you” and that’s about it as His love alone were enough. Instead, God did something about His love by sending His Son.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, coming into being out of a woman, having come under Law, that He might redeem those under Law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal 4:4-7)

If Christ Jesus did not come, civilization would be much harder, more pagan, deeper in disgust, exhausted. If Christ Jesus did not come, man would still be under the law, unredeemed and orphaned. If Christ Jesus did not come, man would remain slaves and without inheritance.

How does this tie in with doctrine? All things implied in an obedient belief system (man, sin, salvation, heaven, hell, angels, demons, the church, future things, etc) seem to be more hindrance than help because somewhere along the line one accrues the idea that he must master it all in order to become a sincere believer. The reason why people are scared of church is because they feel fire-hosed so they look for man-centered “tone down” doctrine that is less threatening; or they avoid the fellowship altogether.

But think about this: when Jesus walked this earth, people wanted to hear what He believed because what He believed mattered. His beliefs mattered because 1) He enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and what He believed showed; 2) He enjoyed abundant living because what He believed made a difference. What He believed were absolutes—unchanging.

Satan would have the world believe otherwise. Imagine my shock while watching Star Wars, Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith” and looking for something of redemptive value (I did not see the movie until two weeks ago), hearing Supreme Chancellor Palpatine declare to Anakin Skywalker in the heat of battle that the Jedi are deceived, only believing in mythical absolutes. What an oxymoron! Yet the language is so intentional! [From the “what it’s worth” department, my kids hate me. They scattered like roaches in the daylight when the movie was over because I had my list of “teachable moments” ready—but I’ve not unrolled it all on them . . . yet] [[how did I get off on that?]]

“ . . . when we say with our whole heart that Jesus is Lord, we have thereby accepted much more besides, for we have committed ourselves to Jesus’ teaching about God, the human race, sin, redemption, and the various other topics he discussed. If Jesus is Lord, he is Lord of our beliefs as well as of the other areas of our lives.”[ii]

I think the reason why people ask the initial question is because of so-called Metathesiophobia[iii] (I say “so called” because at it’s root is the more accurate "rejection of change"). Change is painful and can be very costly and if people are expected to believe something they have not before, huge adjustments must be made. This is a primary reason many shy from studying theology. While I certainly understand the problem, I would say it is a good one to have. This is why we begin doing theology be starting with the study of God through His Word. Can we study God apart from His Word? We will address the another time, but the short answer is “no.”

The fact of the matter is that what we believe about truth has a affect on how we live out reality. The tendency is to do this backward, allowing reality to define truth, and this cannot happen. Correct belief is to wrap the mind around what is true, then act on it.

Erickson gives a small list of objections some may offer concerning the study of doctrine, giving us a little insight into why people are concerned about “going deep”:

  1. The study of doctrine unduly complicates the Christian faith, taking the simple and making it complex.
  2. Doctrine Divides Christians.
  3. Doctrine may distract us from other aspects of the Christian life.

First, I think Charles Schultz thought otherwise about the complexity of doctrine. A Peanuts cartoon pictured Lucy and Linus looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain.

"Boy, " said Lucy, "look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?"

"It will never do that, " Linus replied confidently. "In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow."

"You've taken a load off my mind, " said Lucy with a relieved smile.

"Sound theology, " pontificated Linus, "has a way of doing that!"

Second, I find intrigue in noting how non-Christians seem to be more observant of division and the importance of settling on the absolutes of scripture than we are. While we can’t let people continue disbelief at our expense, we need to learn which doctrines are central and act accordingly.

Finally, J.C. Philpot (1802-1869) in his sermon, “The Precepts of the Word of God” had this to say about doctrine and the aspects of the Christian life: “All doctrine, all experience, all precept center, as one grand harmonious whole, in the glorious Person of the Son of God. From Him they all come; to Him they all flow. Severed from Him . . . doctrine is seen to be but a withered branch; experience but a delusive dream; precept but a legal service. But His light enlightening, His life quickening, His power attending the word of His grace—doctrine is seen to be no longer doctrine dry and dead, but glorious truth; experience to be not a mere matter of fluctuating feeling, but a blessed reality, as the very kingdom of God set up with a divine power in the heart; and obedience not a legal duty, but a high, holy, and acceptable service.”

In closing, (did I just preach a sermon? Adrian Rogers used to say that one should be ready to preach at the drop of a handkerchief and be on the second point before it hit the ground) some reflection on Luke 24:13-27: Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus. What would you say was important to Jesus concerning how and what the disciples believed about Him in light of the teaching of scripture and His resurrection? What was His attitude toward their lack of knowledge of scripture concerning Him?


*********************

[i] Edwards, Jonathan. The Religious Affections. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.
[ii] Erickson, Millard. Does it Matter What I Believe? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
[iii] In case you suffer from Sesquipedalophobia (fear of long words), Metathesiophobia means “the fear of change”.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ahead of his time

When I saw the following, I could not help but think of some words G.K. Chesterton (think of him as a Victorian Francis Schaeffer) published in 1912 (found below article):

Police warn author over gay comments
By Sally Pook(Filed: 10/12/2005)

An author and broadcaster condemned as "sinister" yesterday an inquiry conducted by police over comments she made about homosexuals on a live radio programme. Lynette Burrows [picture on right], an author on children's rights and a family campaigner, took part in a discussion on the Victoria Derbyshire show on Radio Five Live about the new civil partnerships act.

During the programme, she said she did not believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt. She added that placing boys with two homosexuals for adoption was as obvious a risk as placing a girl with two heterosexual men who offered themselves as parents. "It is a risk," she said. "You would not give a small girl to two men."

Read the rest of the article here

**************
G.K. Chesterton, from Eugenics and Other Evils (the actual comments are toward the end. Please remember he is not talking about America per se but Victorian England):

"Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them "The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generations does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females?"; say this to them and they sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them "Murder your mother," and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same. Say to them "It is not improbable that a period may arrive when the narrow if once useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important question of the extension of human diet"; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into their faces. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way "Let's eat a man!" and their surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing. Now, if anyone thinks these two instances extravagant, I will refer to two actual cases from the Eugenic discussions. When Sir Oliver Lodge spoke of the methods "of the stud-farm" many Eugenists exclaimed against the crudity of the suggestion. Yet long before that one of the ablest champions in the other interest had written "What nonsense this education is! Who could educate a racehorse or a greyhound?" Which most certainly either means nothing, or the human stud-farm. Or again, when I spoke of people "being married forcibly by the police," another distinguished Eugenist almost achieved high spirits in his hearty assurance that no such thing had ever come into their heads. Yet a few days after I saw a Eugenist pronouncement, to the effect that the State ought to extend its powers in this area. The State can only be that corporation which men permit to employ compulsion; and this area can only be the area of sexual selection. I mean somewhat more than an idle jest when I say that the policeman will generally be found in that area. But I willingly admit that the policeman who looks after weddings will be like the policeman who looks after wedding-presents. He will be in plain clothes. I do not mean that a man in blue with a helmet will drag the bride and bridegroom to the altar. I do mean that nobody that man in blue is told to arrest will even dare to come near the church. Sir Oliver did not mean that men would be tied up in stables and scrubbed down by grooms. He meant that they would undergo a loss of liberty which to men is even more infamous. He meant that the only formula important to Eugenists would be "by Smith out of Jones." Such a formula is one of the shortest in the world; and is certainly the shortest way with the Euphemists. . . ."

"The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen --- that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics. "

Chesterton is a good read, from the "what it's worth" department. . .

Friday, December 16, 2005

Christmas on the Rez



Stage Presents: Keneisha Chee, 4, smiles at family members as the pre-school students performed a dance during the Tobe Turpen Elementary Christmas Concert Monday in Gallup. [Photo by Julie Peña/Independent]

See more Christmas in New Mexico public schools here.

O' Nizhoni, eh?

The Ugly Duckling Christmas Song

When you think of David of the Bible, what comes to mind? I like to ask this question when I teach a on a psalm or a passage that quotes a psalm. I am very interested in people’s answers. Once we are reminded of traits and attributes of the person, I then turn back to the passage and highlight this: in many cases we can’t tell when David is writing—is he writing as a shepherd or a king? Is he writing before or after Goliath? Is he writing while being pursued by Saul (some of these psalms are more obvious)? Is he writing before or after Bathsheba? I like to stretch the thought process out to see how these situations have any bearing on understanding the text . . . but I digress . . .

Psalm 40 is a Davidic psalm addresses “for the Choir Director.” When I see this my knee-jerk reaction is, “As lead worshipper, what am I glean from this that others who worship God must also understand?” Thinking of celebrating Christ, I cannot help but make the following observations:

Verses 6-8[1]:
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart
.”

Observation #1: The New Testament records the angel’s announcement to Mary, Joseph and shepherds (!), the birth in the cattle stall, the visit of the Magi, the exile into Egypt and other details we equate with Christmas. But Christmas did not start in the New Testament—it started in thousands of years before it actually happened. It started right after creation, when man fell in sin and God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”(Gen 3:15) I imagine Eve thought the promise was fulfilled at the birth of her first-born because she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” (Gen 3:1)

Observations #2: Before Christ could come, God had to show men they were sinners by demonstrating how they could not keep the law of God and God constantly extended grace so they would not be destroyed though camping in the shadow of His glory. The people of God lived with the constant reminder that sin had to be paid for—and God alone had to cover what they could not. David is inspired to look ahead and sees Christ, one who has the law of God perfectly in His heart. In contrast to all other men, Christ is perfect, keeping the law perfectly because He is God. Remember, it is sin that makes Christmas necessary.

Observation #3: David records a conversation that seems to indicate the determination of one coming to take care of sin. Hebrews 10:5-7 provide a commentary on these verses:
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’ ” After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.”

Something strange is going on—did you catch it?

Psalm 40 says: “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.”

Hebrews 10 says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.”

What’s going on? Is the writer of Hebrews reading some modern translation? Well, sort of. He is reading from the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, the Septuagint (LXX). Could it possibly mean that God prepared for man a body and he wants something to happen in that body? Ultimately, the principle is that every part of the body is to be used for God’s glory (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pe 2:5). Truly spiritual sacrifices are acts of worship offered to God and Christ Jesus put an end to constant offerings of someone or something else’s body. The Old Testament system was a constant portrayal of all Christ Jesus came to do, right? I think David saw this, which is why he could say “it was written”.

But there could be another way to think about this: Exodus 21:2-6 speaks of a slave, who after being freed by his owner, could choose to remain a permanent attachment to his house. The agreement was symbolically sealed by the servant being literally nailed to the doorpost. His ear would be drived through with nail so the world will know by the ring that he wears that he is not for sale. Could this be an implied in reaching for the meaning? After all, it is through that prepared body that Christ demonstrated dedicated obedience and sacrificial service. Just a thought.

Why did Jesus come to earth? To be a good example? To be a great teacher? To philosophize on love? To serve men? To be savior from sin? The angel told Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Observation #4: Psalm 40:1-5 sounds like a lament, a crying out and complaining in agony then a sudden turn of rejoicing. One cannot help but see the crucifixion and resurrection here. A new song of redemption!

Observation #5: Psalm 40:6-8. Is it a coincidence that those who saw Christ crucified also saw the abolition of the priesthood and the discontinuation of sacrifices? Why aren’t sacrifices being given today?

Observation #6: Psalm 40:9-10 sure sounds like the Great Commission!

Observation #7: Psalm 40:11-17 The Cross again, where the sacrifice is being identified with sinners. Some people think this psalm is actually two because of the sudden change in tone.

One might think of this as “The Ugly Duckling” passage because it starts and ends with tragedy, yet in the middle are these beautiful words. In another sense, all people start out quite ugly in and remain so until each is changed by faith in Christ Jesus. Then there is sanctification.

Observation #8: God is mentioned 34 times (or more, depending on how you count). Whatever David was experiencing in his life, the LORD is mentioned almost twice as much as there are verses in the psalm! Takl about the thrill of hope in which the wearly world rejoices!

********************************
[1]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, Ps 40:5. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. All references follow suit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Gettin' my Grinch on

Grinch. That name is fingernails on the chalkboard of Christmas. Or so it seems, depending how one thinks of Christmas.

"Oh no, not another boring blog about the 'true meaning of Christmas'" and all that. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps. We'll see. I am going for an "effect" that depends on not my writing, but your reading. Knowing that my comments section remains (for the most part) unused, I am going to assume not many will be reading this either, so I know I'll not be upsetting anyone.

So here it goes! I'm going to Grinch and, if you are reading this, you can go find some other blog of worth to read--or hang around. The choice is yours.

>>>>>>>>>>>>

Christmas brings out the worst in people. Of this I am thoughourly convinced. One needs not step back too far to survey the scene: stress levels are high in deck-adent halls, as the brass and silver are polished, feasts prepared and spreads arranged all for the show of family and friends. Family tensions rise as houses are overstuffed with somebody else's children and folks that one really cannot stand any other time of year. Cousins sit and stare at each other, maybe pulling on their snarfblatt and making small talk about this or that sport or some political complaint, maybe telling the same stories year after year, making promises to not let so much water go under the bridge . . .

If the yelling hasn't started in some family spat (perhaps something left over from last year, having fermented and causing indigestion all year long, now regurgitating itself onto the coffee tables of good Christian men rejoicing), they'll take it outside to the retail stores. Acts of violence break out in both on and off the show-room floors as people are relieved of their plastic money by inept register attendants who seem to go to some sort of school for irritation and apathy. Folks dip in their sickles and reap their harvests of molded shiny plastic and glass and metallic things that take too many batteries and will be returned, forgotten about or broken by April.

The goods are fake, the decorations are fake, the smiles are fake. It's all fake. I mean think about it--have you ever seen a snow-laden tree at night, much less a bush? It don't sparkle like that, folks. Of course, if it caught on fire, that would be something . . .

Yes, Christmas is the time of year to have an excuse to finally break out that recreational drink (a little "nog" here, a little "nog" there), to have a party, to get a little something or to give a little something (just a token, no real meaning in it), to leave work, get out of school, overeat . . .

It was not so much different back then. They paid too many taxes, just like today; only, they primarily faced covering military expenses for a government they didn't like either. They went to bed at night with the threat of world domination pendulating quietly over their sleeping heads--those cruel, ungodly, power-intoxicated band of political wolves prowling around outside their darkened windows. . .

Morality had deterioriated so much their art was flat, nothing was real and certainnly nothing to write home about. Immorality was in every level of society and was moving into the population. Of course they didn't have gay cowboy movies, but the Spartans were just up the road and there were plenty of gladiators were running around . . .

Nationalism was clashing with Imperialism and conformity was the spirit of the age.

Of course then, the government was handing out freebies to keep the populace satiated so they would not rise up and throw out the leaders. Now the population rises to throw the freebies back at the leaders while demanding more--discontent is epidemic! Everyone wants everything for nothing!

Interest rates spiraled then. Nothing has changed.

The Church and the State are divided, and the religious community is acting abnormal as religious observances crumble under the invisible weight of the observances of the state. Political assetts are found in the pews--religion is a social affair. Governmental reform is found in the church! The church is abnormal as sports and competitions are taking precident over services. No different as it was then.

Racial tension? At it's breaking point. They could'nt decide what flag to fly and where, either!

And in such a time, a child was born to a migrant couple who had just signed up for a fresh round of taxation. Soon they would be taking an extended vacation as exiles. . .

Yes, Christmas brings out the worst in people. It shows who they really are--and how much they need Him.

I was about to finish, then I found this:

"What is Christmas? Strip off the date, the name, Santa Clause, the cards, the presents, the tree and the food, and what have you got? NOTHING. That's precisely what Christmas is--nothing. It is absolutely nothing. It isn't historical, it isn't even biblical. It isn't Christian. It isn't anything. Worse than that, it turns out to be sort of bedlam, does'nt it? Well, you say, if Christmas is nothing, then are we wrong to recognize it? Not necessarily, if we recognize that it is nothing. Secondly, if we enjoy the time with family and friends and sharing our love and being together, it's good. But mostly I can think Christmas is important because it gives Christians the opportunity to catch the world aware of Jesus, and give them the truth." [John MacArthur, "The Alpha and the Omega" sermon]

So let's pack everything up, break out a circle of chairs and let one of three things happen: 1) we will all die of boredom; 2) we will get up and find something else to do; 3) we will talk and start to be Christians with one another and will take it outside--literally.

What do you want for Christmas?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Time travel to Figlessburg

Years ago I developed a strange obsession. I was determined to understand all I could about astrophysics and the workings of the universe. This led to many hours of late night conversations, notebooks filled with notes and computations, which all seemed to funnel into theories of time travel and lesser scientific and greater science fiction topics. If one could choose an example of most desirable method of time travel, one must consider a few models known, breaking them down to personal and corporate devices.

Personal devices would include those such as H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine”, the first and most recognized. The rider sits in a generator-enhanced (dynamo) electric couch, spins dials, flips switches and away one goes. Another well-known devise is less a devise but an exertion of strength; namely, such as that demonstrated by Superman who can reverse the spin of the earth and subsequently, adjust time. And of course, the great Christmas chronological cowboy Ebenezer Scrooge who gallivants all over Victorian England on the shirt-sleeves and coat-tails of watchful specters.

Corporate devices would include those machines of Frank Herbert’s spice-sniffing, space-folding “Dune” operatives. This may be more of a space travel example, but the story does contain elements of time adjustment as well, mainly the stopping of time as opposed to moving up and down the time continuum. Another device could be a personal/corporate device, as that pictured in “Clock Stoppers”: one person wears the device, but others who make physical contact may be affected as well. Of course, the many Starships Enterprise enjoyed multiple sling-shots around suns, moons, planets, having a good ol’ time going boldly where no man one has gone before.

Can time travel happen? What are its implications? Oh, the fun we could have—but here is the rock-hard fact: we are in a steady state time travel, moving along a consistent stream of time, making the future present-past with each heartbeat.

But what if we had the chance to go back in time, even as an observer? Someone once said “’what if’ a frog had wings—it wouldn’t bump it’s tail on the ground.” Ok, but “what if”? Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you see?

I would love to see Victorian England, namely the east-end of London alongside the sea-faring pirate and author, Jack London as he recorded his observations there. I would love to see and hear the great G.K. Chesterton and William Ewart Gladstone (and William Wilburforce). I would also like to hear the very first performance of Handel’s “Messiah”, any Bach organ piece and especially the premier of “Rhapsody in Blue”. I would want to meet (and ask many questions of) the Victorians/Romantics:

To Shelley—“Why Ozymandias?” and “why all the spiritism—you and Mary need to stop reading ghost stories.”
To Tennyson—“who is the Lady of Shallot?” and “tell me of your interest in Arthur.”
To Poe—“wassamattau? Get saved!”
To Browning—anything about Fra Lippo Lippi.
To the Bronte sisters—hmmmmmm . . . not sure, perhaps just to meet them and dear old dad.
To Carroll—"put the pipe down, man!"
To Wilde—“Stop thinking about yourself!”
and Twain—I supposed I could only just look at him—and try not to laugh--He would fully understand.

What about biblical history? Where would you go, see, do? Who, what, why, where, when?
I would want to check out The Parting of the Red Sea—definitely. Also, Jericho, get a look at Goliath, and follow Elijah around. I want to know what Jesus was like, at 18 or 23 or 32. What was life like before the filling of the Holy Spirit? What was it like going to Jerusalem for Passover as a 6-year old, knowing the day would come you would die there?

Then there is the day Jesus entered Jerusalem. John MacArthur summarizes Mark 11, starting with “the most significant coronation the world has yet seen, but a coronation unlike any other in history. This is a true coronation of a true King: Jesus, affirmed as King and, in a sense, inaugurated into His kingship—but without pomp, splendor, and pageantry. After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus, the Servant, shows that He has a divine mission. For the second time in His ministry, he makes a public stir by cleansing the temple of its moneychangers and merchants. Then He underscores this judgment of hypocritical religion by cursing a nearby fig tree that has leaves but no fruit. When his disciples wonder about this action, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them about faith, prayer, and forgiveness. When confronted by the Jewish religious leaders about His behavior, however, Christ puts them on the defensive, insuring a future, final confrontation with them.”[i]

A few features jump out at me: first, this event appears in all four gospels. This is significant from our perspective because only one other incident is recorded in all four gospels (The Feeding of Five Thousand). Second, Jesus rides in on a donkey and people go nuts, crying out “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The mood is festive, joyful, great exuberance! The timing of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem seems to coincide with the festivity already occurring. Third, these events are full of emotion: the passage opens with Jesus entering the city perhaps sharing the joy of the people, then closes with Him speaking with His disciples in intimate. In between time, Jesus gets upset over a fruitless tree and fruitless people.

The people were singing out, quoting a verse from Psalm 118 in light of the Passover celebration. I wonder what Jesus was thinking, knowing that the psalm contains other statements such as:

From my distress I called upon the Lord;
The Lord answered me and set me in a large place.
The Lord is for me; I will not fear;
What can man do to me?
The Lord is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me
.”

And,

The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
The right hand of the Lord is exalted;
The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
I will not die, but live,
And tell of the works of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,
But He has not given me over to death
.”

What did the actions of the crowd mean to Jesus? Hard to say. A clue may lie in the fact that Jesus made his way to the temple and scoped the place out. That’s what the text says! “Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.“ (Mark 11:11) He was obviously taking a reading on something nobody else could see.




Where did Jesus go? Mark says He went about 2 miles down the road to Bethany. Matthew gives another rendering of the same name, Bethphage. The next day, Jesus leaves Bethany (or Bethphage) and got hungry. The local fig tree was fruitless and Jesus says to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Coming back by the same spot, Mark records how they saw the tree withered from the roots up, and of course, Peter states the obvious, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” [Good boy, Peter!]

What is going on here? Well, we can begin by noticing the name of place to which Jesus was going and coming from the next day: Bethany/Bethphage. Bethany has been translated as, “house of poverty”[ii], and “house of misery” [iii] (Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived there). Also, “house of dates,” [iv] while Bethphage means, “house of unripe figs”[v]. Jesus goes from the temple to the house of poverty/misery/unripe figs/sans dates. Next day He goes from the house of poverty/misery/unripe figs/sans dates to a tree expected to have fruit (though it was out of season) into a temple that, well, was supposed to be “fruitful”.

Now, a disciple with Jesus that day should have been scratching his head. I can see them standing by the side of the road looking at the withered tree, “Ok, we just came from figless-town . . .” puzzled look on his face, mouth hanging open, pointing down the road then at the tree then down the road then at the tree . . .

When I was a kid we used to have these stomach-punching contests. You know, harden up the old six pack (I traded mine in for a keg—ok, just go with the imagery) while your buddy hits you as hard as he can. Then you trade off. I mean, you hold your hand out to your friend and say while tightening up, “hold it, hold it . . . ok, I’m ready”. Ever been caught off guard (see where I’m going with this)? Ever have your friend slug you when you weren’t ready?

I imagine this is what the Pharisees and others in the temple felt like when Jesus returned the next day (hungry, mind you). I think IF Jesus had announced His coming to the temple and IF the religious leaders did accept Him as King, they would have been rushing around, ““hold it, hold it . . . ok, I’m ready”. Of course, I imagine the fig tree going, “wait! Wait! I’m not ready, “hold it, hold it . . . ok, I’m ready”. Ain’t gonna happen, folks. They messed up worship. They messed up the temple. They existed, but for the wrong reason. Jesus went in, drove out the business-doers and marketers and discontinued souvenir sales. And if that was not enough, He taught them. He TAUGHT them! He began to blow the winds of change and it ruffled feathers!

Is it weird Jesus cursed the tree? Yeah, in some fantasy world, maybe! But in the real world, Jesus made a road-sign for travelers-by, “You are now leaving Fruitlessville, now entering Figlessberg. Proceed at the speed of misery. Your speed will be checked.” Jesus went into town and redesigned the unwelcome center with an Extreme Temple Makeover. Back outside town again, Jesus responded to the disciples’ observation with an extended teaching on prayer and faith—and what true worship looks like. The House of Prayer could not be used as was intended, so the disciples had to understand the place of prayer is not geographical, but part of who the believer is. Commercialism is not Christianity.

Two questions: First, what would Jesus do if he came to your church or my church physically? How would He think about the way we “do” and “are” the church? What aspects of our tradition are offensive to Him? One shudders to think—but I am certain He would address materialism, the way we allow the unregenerate to tell us how to do church, etc.. We sing, "Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus." Really? Isaiah's experience is devastating. Yes, I would like to see Jesus, but He is going to do change something in me and it might get messy.

Second, knowing that Jesus indwells every believer, how does He feel about the fruitfulness He tries to accomplish in our lives. The reality of it is we don’t like things growing out of us: we trim our nails, cut our hair, even use Clearasil when necessary. Now there’s the God of the Universe trying to produce spiritual fruit in us (including self-control!) and it all seems strange because God wants fruit to come out and we don't like this discomfort His changes bring. A life that is Christian in name only is a life that has taken (literally, “taken”) the name of the Lord in vain and I think God has something to say about that.

Spurgeon said, “Would you enjoy religion? Would you have the religion of cheerfulness and not that of gloom? Then “have faith in God.” If you love darkness, and are satisfied to dwell in gloom and misery, then be content with little faith; but if you love the sunshine, and would sing songs of rejoicing, covet earnestly this best gift, “great faith.”[vi]

“The great problem with society is not injustice, inequity, crime, or even immorality—pervasive and destructive as those evils might be. Society’s evil of evils has always been its abandonment of God. And it is as true today as it was in ancient Israel that the people of God must themselves be revived and renewed before they can be His instruments for changing the world around them.”[vii]

****************
All glory, laud and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King,
to whom the lips of children make sweet hosannas ring:
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David’s royal Son,
who in the Lord’s name comest, the King and blessed One!

The company of angels are praising Thee on high,
and mortal men and all things created make reply:
The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;
our praise and prayer and anthems before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise;
to Thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise:
thou didst accept their praises—accept the praise we bring,
who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious King!

Bottom Line: We must decide whether we truly love and serve Christ for any other reason other than for who He is. We must examine how we reflect that love in the way we walk out our worship.[viii]

****************
[i]MacArthur, John. Mark : The Humanity of Christ. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 76. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[ii]Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nelson's Quick Reference Topical Bible Index. Nelson's Quick reference. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995.
[iii]Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Test of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurence of Each Word in Regular Order. electronic ed., G963. Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996.
[iv]Easton, M.G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897.
[v] Thomas Nelson’s Quick Reference, Ibid.
[vi]Spurgeon, C. H. Morning and Evening : Daily Readings, March 7 AM. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995.
[vii]MacArthur, John. Mark : The Humanity of Christ. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 81. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[viii]Osbeck, Kenneth W. Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Includes indexes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Eight Days of Chanukah


[Everyone sing!]

On the 1st day of Chanukah my true love gave to me . . .

A parsing for every verb!


On the 2nd day . . . 2 begadkephats and . . .
On the 3rd day . . . 3 Hebrew profs . . .
On the 4th day . . . 4 Chala breads . . .
On the 5th day . . . 5 Gold-steins!
On the 6th day . . . 6 Priests a'praying . . .
On the 7th day . . . 7 Rabbis teaching . . .
On the 8th day . . . 8 Prophets preaching . .
.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What the . . . ?

Why do churches close on Sunday?
ON CHRISTMAS MORNING, FAMILY TRUMPS WORSHIP AT SOUTHLAND, OTHERS
By Frank E. Lockwood
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER

"Central Kentucky's largest church will break with tradition and close its doors on Christmas Sunday so that staff and volunteers can spend more time with their families.

Southland Christian Church near Lexington, where more than 7,000 people worship each week, is one of several evangelical megachurches across the country that are opting to cancel services on one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar."

Read the rest of this here

The Ghosts of Christmas: Ichabod, meet God

O, Ichabod Crane,
O, Crane Ichabod!
Finds glory for self,
Steals glory from God.
The thin pedagogue from New England's coast,
Stuffs himself full of what pleases him most.

Skyward sail-born masts a-jut,
Arks slip by that hollow of Connecticut,
where Ichabod makes his fun in the day
by delighting his senses (yet wasting away).

Distracted by tales that give him the rise,
our dear Mr. Crane at night must devise
a safe way to go from this place to that,
and not lose his way, his nerve, or his hat.

Encouraging youth down the pathways of knowledge,
our chief tutor's days, weeks and years in the college
give him no comfort (O, poor Ichabod)
for the day he would stand alone before God,
who would say,
"Look at this!
Here one stands outside heavenly bliss!
Why did you keep for yourself all my glory?
You act as if headless! You know my story!
My life among men was to save all the lost,
yet you lived all your life as if you were the boss."

And Ichabod Crane would be turned away--
how depressing a story, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Ghosts of Christmas: Raising Ebenezer

What comes to mind when you hear of "Ebenezer?" I think also of "Ichabod" and "Ishmael".

What are these, names? Yes. These are names.

But who bear these nomen? What is their meaning? From whence came they and wither do they go?

I venture in these next installments to discuss my brief thoughts on these personages so-named and what their monikers impose on my Christmas preparations.

***************
What think ye of Ebenezer? I think of remembering . . . and forgetting.


Do you remember the first time you heard "Ebenezer?" More than likely, you first heard the name about this very time of year. Charles Dickens has introduced us to a name that embodies the cold, one bent and set in his ways-a very old man, one Ebenezer Scrooge. He is most remembered because he has forgotten and because he has forgotten, he became someone he had not planned to be.

We meet him at the bottom of his deep forgetfulness, a place so dark and isolated that it takes the visit from his recent past to get his recollection working again. Dickens then brings to Ebenezer three ghosts to help him remember who he once was, the choices he made to become who he is and what end he will meet should he continue on the path he has chosen. When Marley unties his jaw that he may speak in warning to his former partner Scrooge, I imagine his mouth falling open not so much due to the decay of his own corpse but out of shock that he was sent to speak and gaze upon, in the words of Mark Twain, "the most deadest man ever seen alive. "


What a miserable, horrible personal hell one gains in forgetting what is most important. And the hell is not so much the act of forgetting-what is forgotten is that life is at hand! Rescue is near! This one treasure is what Dickens hopes his readers will remember! Help and victory is what Christmas is about. Do not scrooge away the reality of the nearness of help! Mere nodding the head at salvation is to miser it! Knowing it is there and not act upon it is to forge one's own chains of distress to be worn in the bottomless pits of hell.

And what, pray, is "Ebenezer?" Ebenezer is an act of remembrance and the place of a battle. In days of old when God's people were bold, the great hairy and black-maned sea-people of malformed giants fell at the feet of the small and weak shepherding farming people of the Promised Land. Read the news in 1 Samuel 7:10-17. One scholar explains: "When the Philistines learned of the assembly, they attacked Israel at Mizpah but the Lord, in a mighty demonstration of power (by thunder), defeated them. In commemoration of this great triumph Samuel erected on the site between Mizpah and Shen (whose location is unknown), a monument which he called Ebenezer, literally, the "stone of [God's] help." This apparently ended Philistine occupation of Israelite soil though the Philistines came later time and time again to harass Israel (13:5; etc.)." [Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. 1983-c1985. The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures. Victor Books: Wheaton, IL]

Christmas erects a great Ebenezer, a bright shining gem on the one side and the dull grinder on the other --a stone of remembering (O, sweet hymn of joy!) and a stone over which men stumble or under which be swiftly and completely crushed.

Dickens shows us what being crushed and what one looks like when God's power to route the enemy and His people are saved. One who in his autonomy was free to miss love and hence, mis-love; or he is overcome by love, swept over by the amazing demonstration of God in his incarnation, transfiguration, glorification, exaltation and assumption--the whole of tge Christmas story.

Like a beat-up old instrument old Ebenezer sat in the dark, night after night, sucking gruel from the end of a dirty silver spoon. The chords of his heart without tune or key lay limp and still, the mute locked firmly across the bridge of his heart to muffle any strum or bow. It was the bells. The bells, bells, bells! The tinkling of the silver bells that drive one man to madness and shaking Ebenezer from his own, announcing the arrival of consecutive warnings found in the tolling of the hours and announcing the dawn.

How do we know he was crushed? How do we know he was saved? No sooner had the sun come up, he was caused to remember love. He loved the schoolboy with the shining morning face creeping with his errand from the butcher. He loved his nephews who loved the orphans. He withdrew his hand from his pocket and found love for both fortunate and unfortunate. He abandoned his castle for the East End of London, where the people really livee. He loved not his money, but a fully attended table by ones both great and tiny. He acted as man forgiven. Don't forget that.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Christ our Sanctifier

He tried and he tried hard, but despite his determination and effort, despite his good intentions, he just could not do it. He was not trying to break a world record, nor demonstrate some marvelous feat of ingenuity or intelligence. He was just trying to be, well, morally perfect. Benjamin Franklin, the great American inventor, philosopher and statesman had been reading from a sundry of works that directed his thinking concerning virtue. Franklin collected from these works a list of virtues that, he felt, could help him become morally perfect, provided he mastered them: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. His plan involved a 24-hour, 7 day system with his “intentions being to acquire the habitude [sic] of all these virtues”.

There are many presuppositions concerning the meaning of a Christian life and the presuppositions reflect this same kind of attitude. Some feel that being Christian depends on following the 10 Commandments and imitating Christ. Franklin submitted that he must emulate Jesus and Socrates. With this attitude, the Christian life becomes whatever follows by association, as “we will all go to heaven anyway”. Others have a more “deistic” approach: God is close enough to change the sinner into a new creation upon repentance, but the Christian life is up to the individual to live as if God is suddenly inaccessible—again, ”we will all go to heaven anyway”.

Misunderstandings as these reduce the Christian life to mean the acquisition of moral perfection. The scientific mind of Franklin conditioned him to leave a record of his efforts. In his essay on “Moral Perfection”, he follows the scientific method: he proposed what he wanted to accomplish, created a plan, experimented, then evaluated the outcome. He wrote:

“I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I know, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. . . . on the whole, tho’ [sic] I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

What is one to do when Jesus says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48) and, “You shall be Holy, for I am Holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pe. 1:16)? What kind of plan should be implemented by the Christian when he is told to “walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16)?

To see the words and affirm their truth is one thing, but how is this made practical? Benjamin Franklin was right in wanting to be different, to separate himself from the world and be a better person; however, he was wrong in that he wanted to deal with his personal imperfections by submitting to . . . himself.

First, one must be clear about what God desires of the Christian: be sanctified, which is much more than ”be morally perfect”. Second, one must be comforted to know that he is not going to find sanctification alone. Consider Paul’s words, “But by His doing [emphasis mine] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

The distinguishing mark of the deeper Christian life is sanctification by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. To best understand what all this means, one must first examine what the Bible teaches about sanctification, then establish the best definition. Second, one must carefully consider what Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension mean in regards to the Christian as well as the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to sanctification. Following this, the crises and progression of sanctification will be defined then I will conclude with my personal experience with Christ as my Sanctifier.

Sanctification is not so mundane that it is the “common business” of the religious. In the 1600’s Brother Lawrence wrote how “it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards."

Thomas A'Kempis puts man in his place reflecting a similar thought saying (as if Jesus were speaking), "You have need of Me. I do not need you. You do not come to sanctify Me but I come to sanctify you and make you better. You come to be sanctified and united with Me, to receive new grace and to be aroused anew to amend. Do not neglect this grace, but prepare your heart with all care, and bring into it your Beloved."

The term “sanctify” originates in the Hebrew word kedesh, meaning “separation, apartness, sacredness”. This is the same root from which we derive the word “holy” and is used of God’s majesty (Exodus 15:11); His name (Leviticus 20:3); even His Spirit (Isaiah 63:10). It is also used in reference to places, such as His habitation (Psalm 68:5); earth (Exodus 3:5); the tabernacle and its courts (Exodus 40:9); the temple and grounds (2 Chronicles 29:7). The Greek root word, agios (agios), includes in its range of meaning: “dedicated to God”, “holy”, “sacred”; “perfect”; “of pure substance.”

The New Testament includes references to things dedicated to God, such as Jerusalem (Matthew 4:5), conduct (2 Peter 3:5); things used as a pure substance (Matthew 7:6). The word is also used to refer to God (1 John 2:20), Christ (Revelation 3:7) and “holy ones”, specifically angels (1 Thessalonians 3:13) and people consecrated to God, the “saints” (Acts 9:13).
With this basic understanding of how the concept is used in scripture, one definition of sanctification may be offered as, “the act of God setting apart someone or something to holy use. It may be positional, referring to the Christian’s position in Christ; experiential, resulting from the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian; or ultimate, speaking of the complete perfection of the believer in heaven.”

Henry Theissen defines sanctification as “a separation to God, an imputation of Christ as our holiness, purification from moral evil, and conformation to the image of Christ.” Dr. Donald Williams, in his book The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, provides a consensus of definitions by explaining how: “Most people think of sanctification as moral purity or victory over sin and the flesh. Such definitions are really the connotation of the word, but they are legitimately derived from its denotation which is simply “separation.” To be “separate” from the world in this sense is not simply to be aloof from it, must [sic] less isolated from it: it rather involves being set apart from the world unto God for His service in the world . . . a moving away from all that is evil and out of harmony with the character and will of God who has redeemed us.”

E.Y. Mullins teaches that Christ “gradually produces in us the moral traits of God” but also emphasizes that “sanctification is the gradual unfolding of the life imparted in regeneration into its own inherent possibilities of moral and spiritual beauty.” That is to say that sanctification does not follow regeneration, but is synonymous with regeneration. A.B. Simpson disagrees with the Baptist Mullins at the beginning of his teaching on “Christ our Sanctifier”:

“Sanctification is not regeneration. It is not conversion . . . . To be saved eternally is cause for eternal joy; but the soul must also enter into sanctification. They are not the same. Regeneration is the beginning. It is the germ of the seed, but it is not the summer fullness of the plant. The heart has not yet gained entire victory over the old elements of sin. It is sometimes overcome by them. Regeneration is like building a house and having the work done well. Sanctification is having the owner come and dwell in the house and fill it with gladness and life and beauty. Many Christians are converted and stop there. They do not go on to the fullness of their life in Christ, and so are in danger of losing what they already possess.”

This is simply stated by a preacher who was heard to say, “It is easy to start the Christian life. The hardest part is ending well.” Simpson would also disagree with Mullins as he indicates that sanctification is not morality or self-perfection (hence our point made above). In a summary of the points, Simpson teaches that sanctification is “separation from sin,” “dedication to God,” “conformity to the likeness of God,” “conformity to the will . . . of God,” and “supreme love to God and all mankind.”

The best and most concise understanding of sanctification is that it “is not merely a doctrine, philosophy or life-style. It is the manifestation of the righteousness of God as found in the spotless, sinless life of Jesus Christ . . . sanctification means to be set apart from sin and set apart to God.” This is the very heart of sanctification, what it is, what it means, how and what it is to accomplish. Sanctification is more than being set apart to serving God alone as one cannot determine exactly what the creator needs from His creation in terms of service. Sanctification is being set apart from sin to God that the life of Jesus is lived through those sanctified. It is the will of God that the experience of sanctification be an essential part of the Christian life (1 Thess. 5:23). This is so that God’s predestined purpose be fulfilled in our lives, namely, that we become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Limiting the present discussion to the book of Romans, the discussion concerning identification of the believer with the death of Christ may be started. First, we learn that it was because of sin Christ died and man could do nothing about his condition (3:25; 4:25; 5:8). Second, His death accomplished reconciliation with God as the believer is united with Christ in His death ( 5:10; 6:3,5). This done, slavery to to sin is obliterated and we are set free having died to sin as we believed (6:6-10). Finally, the believer must now live in a tension of the “already/not yet” as he must consider himself dead to sin though alive and must not allow sin to reign (6:11-14; 7:4). The resurrection of Christ brings justification to the believer (4:25) who was saved by His life (5:10) and is now able to walk in newness of life being united with Him in resurrection (6:4,5). Because of the resurrection of Christ we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:9-11). We are joined “to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4) living under the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2). The work of Christ in the life of the believer does not end with His death or resurrection. His work continues due to His ascension and consummates what His death and resurrection have accomplished.

This is understood from other passages in the New Testament: Jesus is revealed to be the Lord of Glory to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10-11); He is the head of the church, His body, the fullness of Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Jesus Himself taught that He must go that the Holy Spirit may come (John 14).

The ministry of the Holy Spirit in sanctification is modeled for us in the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Luke shows us that Jesus, as a man, was fully dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. He is our perfect example of a life submitted to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s walk with God is not a way of life in and of itself and the sanctified life is another. They are closely intertwined, the one leading to the other. Jesus shows us this as He was fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, walking with God and submitting His words and works to the will of God through the Holy Spirit.

A distinct contrast is made here in that if one is determined to emulate Christ, one should do so through submission to the Holy Spirit, not the words, attitudes, ideals or works of Jesus alone. Jesus made it clear that greater works will be done, but the Spirit of God is the source of the effective life and ministry. To reiterate, one must understand that to imitate Jesus and be sanctified by Him is not for the purpose of power, status or recognition, but is to be done out of obedience to God.

It is evident that Jesus Christ is our Sanctifier (1 Cor. 1:30). His work is accomplished through the finished work of the cross in His death, through His resurrection and by His ascension. The holiness God asks us to attain (1 Pe. 1:16) is not of our own origin nor is our growth (Heb. 6:1). These things are the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, who is to be under the complete control of the Holy Spirit. We are not obliged to live in the sinful nature from which we have been delivered (Ro. 8:12), as those who live in life, not in death (Ro. 6:13).

The crises aspect of sanctification resides in the fact that we are saved from sin and death and are made new creations in Christ; however, we yet continue to live in this flesh, in this world. The Christian who submits to the Holy Spirit lives in tension, between flesh and the Spirit. Since it is the Spirit’s task to convict of sin, the Christian is reminded that the life he now lives in Christ is not complete and is to be made sanctified. One is set apart to God at salvation, but must continue to be sanctified through the course of his life. The struggle is explained by Paul, where he describes the persistent problem of inability to do what is right before God (Ro. 7:14-21). The sin nature cannot be defeated be personal effort, resolution or determination. When the Christian consciously decided to allow the Spirit to fill and control his life, then the Spirit takes over. As the Spirit bears fruit, it becomes evident that His work is being accomplished.

The progression of sanctification depends on the daily submission of the believer. One is not completely delivered from the influences of the sinful nature until he has died or is face to face with Christ at His coming. Submission to the Holy Spirit is constant throughout the course of life. Paul teaches that we should “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph, 5:18); that is, keep on constantly being filled with the Spirit of God. With the continuing presence of the Spirit, His Holy nature always exposes sin that remains and the steps necessary to deal with it. While we are encouraged to become like Christ, we become godly, not god-like or a god. This is not spiritual evolution where the Christian becomes equal to God our Father. We are His children and are to grow as children (1 Pe. 2:2). Spiritual growth is evident by the manifestation of spiritual fruit, which is in distinct contrast to the fruit of the flesh. Growth can be measured on a spiritual growth chart, as given in 2 Peter 1:5-8. As we become more like Him, we glorify Him in our lives, allowing Him to live in us and through us, fulfilling His will. He is glorified in His work by death, resurrection and ascension and His abiding presence.

(Copyright James K. Wilson, Jr. March, 2000. Footnotes have been removed to protect copyright.)
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I am weakness, full of weakness
At Thy sacred feet I bow:
Blest, divine, eternal Spirit,
Fill with power, and fill me now!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Christ our Savior

Luther Burbank, an American horticultural scientist who developed the sturdy Burbank potato, is quoted in the January 22, 1926 publication of the San Francisco Bulletin, as saying, “The God within us is the only available God we know and the clear light of science teaches us that we must be our own saviours.” This statement reflects the concept of what modern man conceives to be true of himself and his relationship to God: man needs salvation of some kind, but is the only one able to save himself.



How can the one who needs help provide the very help he needs? Despite his attempt to declare autonomy, Burbank finds himself wrestling other truths as well: there is something or someone known as “God”; man needs to be saved; and, there is a savior.

In the present time there are many concepts of “savior”. In literary circles, Isaac Asimov won’t refer to God, Jesus or use the name “Lord” or any other related term and has reduced religion down to a business venture.[i] To Asimov, the universe is eternal and man is just part of the perpetual evolutionary process who will evolve himself out of his problems into a higher consciousness. Asimov, balancing between true technology and fiction, proposes that man can save himself, it is just a matter of time.

Or consider Frank Herbert’s sci-fi savior, the Kwisatz Haderach, a genetically engineered messiah who becomes a god-emperor of the known universe--a human who depends on drug addiction to provide “prescience” he needs to rule the universe through treachery, debauchery, coercion, economics, ecology and technology.

To Herbert, the savior is corrupt and can’t get the job done either. Man is lost!

This word of “savior” is not a simple noun, title nor some arbitrary linguistic label. For one to call Jesus the Savior is not to invoke a religious label or lavish some meaningless title of exaltation. He is Christ the Savior, simply believe it or not. The centrality of our discussion here is that the nature and end of man necessitates Jesus Christ to be Savior; there is an objective plan and purpose at work in the atoning work of Jesus Christ the Savior; of the many results of His salvific activity, the means and results of justification should be explored; and finally, Jesus our Savior is still at work--He is Jesus Christ OUR Savior, my Savior!

Across the ages and across various circles of thought it is agreed that man is in trouble and must be saved from his trouble. The Bible calls man’s trouble sin and nothing else. Man was originally created perfect, without sin and in fellowship with God, but through his willful disobedience man sinned against God and was separated from God, out of fellowship with God. The Bible records the Lord God stating, “Behold, the man has become like one [who is left alone, stranded], from it [the tree of knowledge of good and evil] knowing good and evil . . .” (Genesis 3:22). Man was cast into lifelessness without God, being “dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:5). Man’s nature is sinful because “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). What man deserves is eternal death (Romans 6:23a).

How is man able to deliver himself from this awful state? He cannot. In order to be saved from sin, he must be delivered TO some other state and this he cannot generate in, of or from his own self. God’s plan was incited from the very beginning. Through the unfolding of time (no reference to Herbert, mind you) scripture records that God’s intention was to save man.


Though space does not permit an exhaustive treatment of the progress of redemption, there are some significant passages that reflect the biblical theology of God as Savior: Israel forgot that God was their Savior (Psalm 106:21); God will save and champion the oppressed (Isaiah 19:20); there is no Savior except for the Lord (Isaiah 43:11; 45:21); all flesh will know the Lord is Savior (Isaiah 49:26). The prophecies of the Messiah identify God when He would come to save man from sin: He would be the seed of woman to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15); born of a virgin and be “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14; John 1:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Luke 2:4f); would suffer and die (Psalm 22:14-18); and be raised from the dead (Psalm 16:10).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). It is because of His free gift in Christ Jesus our Lord that man is able to escape death and have eternal life (Romans 3:23b). If man does not believe in Jesus, he is condemned already (John 3:18) and is separated from God for eternity. He is to be resurrected to eternal death in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8). Eternal fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41) and the one who does not believe deserves the punishment of their father, the devil (John 8:44). 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 clearly teaches that there is a new life in Christ, the old is gone and new is come, man is able to be reconciled to God and he able to have eternal life.

Throughout history, there have been many attempts to explain how the death of Christ covers sin. The first to fifth centuries heard arguments that said atonement was a ransom paid to the devil for fallen souls. While Anselm later proported that atonement satisfied the offenses made to God’s majesty, as if God were a feudal lord, Abelard (and the later 16th century Socinians) said that atonement was simply a moral example showing us how to love God and sacrifice demonstrating one’s dedication. The Reformers stressed that Christ became our legal substitute before God. With this foundational concept, others expanded on the atonement to say that Christ’s death was a public example of the extreme measures God undertakes to uphold the moral order of the universe and the depths of sin. In more modern times, one definition simply reduces atonement to victory over the devil.

The plan of God to save man from sin, death and eternal separation from God involves atonement. This is an ancient truth built into the very God-given laws that established Israel as a nation at its inception. Atonement is not a new concept to New Testament times as it has always been a part of God’s plan. Some reduce the term to simply “at-one-ment”, as with “at one with God”, but the definition (as such) fails as it focuses on the result of atonement and does not address how this is result actually accomplished.

In Hebrew, caphar literally means “cover, hide, obliterate”. The range of meaning includes the concept of “a price of a life, ransom”, “cover over, pacify, make propitiation”. The most concise explanation of the atonement begins in the Old Testament sacrificial system where one finds not a reformation system, a way to “turn over a new leaf” with God as some of the above theories imply, but a demonstration of the necessity to account for sin, the need to take care of it, and that man cannot take care his sin problem himself. In the Old Testament system sin and guilt were only symbolically transferred onto a perfect sacrifice. God was the only one who could declare sin obliterated. The sacrificial system was for man’s benefit to know he was, literally, covered.

Jesus has been clearly identified to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It was necessary that He should suffer and die (Exodus 12; Isaiah 53; Luke 22:37; Mark 8:31). Jesus Himself is our substitute (John 15:13, Romans 5:8), our offering and sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2) giving His blood for our redemption and purchase (Ephesians 1:7), our propitiation (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2). The most well known question surrounding the atonement is “did the death of Christ atone for the sins of every man, or only certain men, the “elect”?” The argument has been churning on within evangelical circles for hundreds of years and will not be solved on this side of eternity, especially within this paper; however, we will acknowledge the two main views involved the particular argument (Christ died for the elect) and the general argument (Christ died for all men). The particular argument, as purported by most Calvinists, says that Christ’s death is for His people (Matthew 1:21), His sheep (John 10:11), His friends (John 15:13), that His blood was given for the church (Acts 20:28), as He loved and gave Himself for the church (Ephesians 5:25), and that His intercession is for His own (John 17:9). The opposing viewpoint originates from a more Arminian understanding, that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 3:16,17; 1 John 2:1,2), that Christ is the savior of all men (1 Timothy 4:10) as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6) because He tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

The extent of Christ’s death and atonement is clearly applied on an individual level (Leviticus 6:2-7) as well as a national level (Leviticus 4:13-20). The principle is that sin is covered over, not seen and this atonement is for the whole world as referred to in the above generalistic argument. In his book Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Theissen writes, “the atonement is unlimited in the sense that it is available for all; it is limited in that is effective only for those who believe. It is available for all, but efficient only for the elect.”

To say there exists a close correlation between the atonement and justification would be to understate the fact. Justification follows the atonement. E.Y. Mullins explains in “The Saving Work of Christ” that the atonement and justification are two sides of the same coin. He asks first “whether the necessity of the atonement was in God or man . . . . The necessity was on both God and man.” He continues by explaining that the atonement provided in the death of Christ was a necessity in God for man, as a provision. The atonement then, produces repentance as it reveals the nature of sin in man and “destroys the legal consciousness of the sinner by becoming the ground of his justification.” In effect, Mullins plainly states the biblical teaching that one is not justified without the atonement: “We conclude, then, that the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith based on the atoning work of Christ promotes moral and spiritual interests in two ways: First, it joins the soul to Christ in a living union which is potential of all moral attainment; and secondly, it provides for the needs of the sin-and-guilt consciousness of men and enables them thus to rise to the filial consciousness of true sons of God.”

Though there would be a tendency in modern evangelicalism to avoid terminology as “consciousness” due to New Age influences, Mullins undoubtedly emphasizes the truth that justification allows one to live a deeper Christian life as Christ is our life (Colossians 3:3-4) and the realization of the position of the believer being a child of God (1 John 3:1). Justification is clearly the result of the obliteration of sin. The word dikaiow (dikaio) includes in its range of meaning the concepts of “to show justice”, “vindicate”, “to be acquitted, pronounced and treated as righteous”, “make free or pure.” Since by the blood of Christ sin is atoned for the believer, his position before God is no longer that of an enemy under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9,10), as the believer has been declared justified, vindicated by God Himself (Romans 8:33). Guilt and sin are removed by the atonement, the blood of Christ cleanses from sin and the sinner is declared legally right before God!

(copyright James Kent Wilson, Jr. February 14, 2000. Source and footnotes have been removed for copyright protection.)

We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!
Shout salvation full and free
To each shore that ocean laves--
This our song of victory:
Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!

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[i] Following in Huxley’s footsteps, the entire timeline has been reduced to B.F. and A.F., where Henry Ford (and all subsequent man-made technological advances) is the mark of time; hence, “Before Ford” and “After Ford”. If memory serves me correctly I believe that Arthur C. Clarke also reflected this in his 2000 series.

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