Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Wait... who's your Brother?

      I have greatly profited from the teaching of Paul Washer for many years, and just today, I was flabbergasted by the incredible parallel he drew to Christ from a famous O.T. figure.  I have read of several similar links made by the most insightful of the Puritans, but no one in the last 200 years.  He's started a  series in Ephesians, and he was getting excited trying to communicate the vast quantity of blessings implied in 1:3, the ones we have in Christ Jesus.  Here's a rough paraphrase of his thoughts...
Is this enough?

"Imagine you're one of Joseph's brothers during the famine, and your stomach is making noises you've never heard before.  You are sent to Egypt and are brought before the lord of the granaries, who alone has access to all the grain you and your family need to survive.  You look at all the grandeur of His palace and the dignity of his person, and you know you're not worthy to ask him for a piece of bread, let alone grain for 70 people.  But then the facade is dropped, and you realize he's your brother who loves you and desires to bless you.  So here in Ephesians, we see the Anointed Saviour of God, the Lord of all the treasuries of Heaven, and you're not worthy to touch the hem of His garment... but then you are made to see that He's your Brother, and all the good things of God, even the ones you don't know exist, everything is yours in Jesus."

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Caution! Well-known Verses Ahead!

     I had an epiphany of context today... an insight on a familiar verse.  Any sound bible teacher will
I wonder if they mean works-righteousness?
tell you those verses are the most dangerous:  the ones you know by heart, that you've heard quoted over and over again in a variety of settings.  Every Christian knows them, if not by reference, then by content.  And thus they're often the most misunderstood... this danger is likely the reason America's professing Christians are:
  1.  by majority Arminian ("...that WHO-SO-EVER (!) believeth in Him...";  Jn 3:16), 
  2.  non-confrontational ("Judge not, lest ye be judged.";  Mt 7:1),
  3.  and are beginning to doubt if hell even exists ("...because God is love.";  1 Jn 4:10).  
So obviously, the best way to approach these potential pitfalls is with one eye on the text and the other on our own misconceptions.  I've been reading in Jeremiah and came across the best known verse in the book.  No, it's not 17:9 ("the heart is deceitful above all things..."), or 6:14 ("Peace, peace when there is no peace"), or even 31:31ff ("Behold the days are coming... when I will make a new covenant...").  I am utterly confident that the most famous verse in Jer. is 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
     And taking my own advice, I paused and studied the immediate context.   Backing up one verse, I was devastated by the implications of 29:10:
"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place."
This beautiful scenery looks little different from behind bars...
     This has happened to me before (like when one reads the 2nd verse after Jn 3:16, or the 5th verse after Mt 7:1);  and in the grand scheme of things, with a "big picture" perspective, vs. 10 fits perfectly with vs. 11:  it's great news that the exiles would return to the Promised Land and the enjoyment of God's favor.  But look at it again, highlighting one little detail:  this would happen after 70 years.  Put yourself in their shoes...  29:1 says Jeremiah is writing to those exiled with King Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin) which occurred around 597 B.C.  Jerusalem was destroyed in 586, so these expatriates could have been in Babylon a couple years, but not more than 10.  It's safe to say the Jews were not enjoying the warm hospitality of Babylon (Ps. 137:3) or the benefits package of slavery (not exactly that of a CEO).  So a rough paraphrase of Jeremiah's message could be understood like this:
"You're not liking Babylon?  You wanna go back home to your own land?  Too bad!!!  You and your families will be here 60 more years!  You'll probably be cold and dead by the time God has mercy on Israel and restores your people to Canaan (Ezr 3:12)!  Only after decades of toil and heartache and misery will your children return to the homeland... and God is letting you off easy!"
     So do you see how the context of 29:11 should shape our understanding of it today?  Instead of a magic wand waved over our problems to make them disappear instantly, often God's promises have wonderful and beautiful fulfillments that we will not see in our physical lifetimes.  We must apprehend (one of my favorite words... "to grab hold of") these truths and God's hope by faith and trust Him in the dark, depressing (yet temporary) times of our lives.  Only then will we know the power of "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).

Photos courtesy of williamcho, Fernando Silveira

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Calvinist Punchline...

     I heard this great description of Arminian soteriology (study of salvation) in an introductory summation of
"Really, Steve?!?  You're a Calvinist??"
the doctrines of grace;  Al Martin had lamented the hollow straw men that abound to misrepresent a logical, systematized understanding of what the Bible says about how God saves us.  He referenced a great book, which J. I. Packer introduces with the simple, central thesis of Calvinism:  GOD SAVES SINNERS!  So, Mr. Martin turns around and explores (around the 49 minute mark) how a cooperative view, where God waits for and requires men to turn to Him on their own initiative, could be characterized;  I cracked up laughing, and I hope you do, too:
"That's the confession of a Calvinist.  He doesn't have the Father, as it were, ignorant of whom He wishes to save; and the Son dying really for nobody in particular to secure nothing for sure; and the Spirit, as it were, willy-nilly hoping to accomplish something somehow for somebody that may have been in the mind of Christ when He did something on the Cross for nobody in particular... is that a caricature?"
     Then the Scriptural evidence of God's choosing:  the same word is used when David chooses and gathers his ammunition to gun down Goliath
"The picture is not of David standing there with arms folded with all those stones saying now: 'You've been lying there for hundreds of years in the brook... you've all experienced the same washing of the babbling brook and it would be the height of impudence for me to exercise any kind of favoritism!  I would like five stones;  would you please wiggle up on the shore and I will use you in my conquest of Goliath?'  Now we wouldn't picture language like that when dealing with historical events... David CHOSE five stones!  He reached in with his grubby hand into the brook and pulled out five stones!  When the Scripture says that Almighty God chose a people in Christ, it means just that.  For reasons that lie locked up in His own heart, He chose."
 Photo courtesy of Daniel Semper

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Reaping and Sowing

     It has been a while since we were in 2 Cor... the thrust of chapter 8 continues in
My personal favorite...
chapter 9, and likely the best passage in the Bible on giving is supported with O.T. texts and examples. A tragedy of our culture of churchianity is the influx of the prosperity gospel; I know it shouldn't be difficult for you, so imagine your favorite false teacher while you read these verses, whoever it is from TBN or your local community that twists and perverts the Scripture's teaching on money.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Cor 9:6-8)        
     Now, we all know how easy it is to take one verse out of the Bible and build a theology around it... vs. 6 is the Holy Grail for the wolves looking for tasty meal of sheep (or more properly, the sheep's wallets). What could be more persuasive than the question "Financially, do you want to reap sparingly or bountifully?"? This is true especially for the carnal church member who views church as a ready-made social network to sell to/benefit from. On one of our bus routes, there's a church called "Abundant Faith International Christian Center"... Jn 10:10 is another prime target of misuse for those preying on those unsatisfied with the eternal perspective of simple, self-denying godliness. So as supposed biblical justification for a divinely-empowered get-rich-quick scheme, "You reap what you sow" is in the top three, easy, a supposed proof text for a bible bait-and-switch.
"You give me your money, and God will give you His!"
     But when we take a step back and consider how Scripture itself interprets Scripture (rather than a televangelist with a private jet), it's more clear, and more reasonable that vs. 6 is not talking about a "financial seed" given as a loan to God to expect repayment on (with 1000% interest!), but about a heart attitude of generosity and love, a biblical apprehension of how God thinks about money and what He expects us to do with it. If every New Covenant believer really is indwelt with God the Holy Spirit, and in the process of being led into all truth and righteousness (Jn 16:13), the best judge of each individual's responsibility and ability to give is that individual. So no external pressure based on the insufficiency of the Old Covenant is necessary... no coercive manipulation, which is the trademark of our religious hucksters, is proper in collection and/or requesting of funds for local fellowship needs.
     Every households' needs and situation can be unique, but the stinginess of the old nature must be checked, too. Some folks are naturally more concerned for the well-being of others (like my wife), but some are cold and callous (like me). So as a side note and counterbalance, I remember a question from a newly married couple a few years ago; they couldn't agree and for the sake of discretion, I'll remain silent on who thought what. But their question was simple: "Should we give/tithe on our gross income or the net (before or after taxes)?" My answer was equally concise: "Do you want God to bless you on the gross or on the net?" Not only would "net giving" put earthly taxes before our obligations to God, but it would also treat Him as most Americans do the IRS... as an institution to be avoided through loopholes. Let's be honest: the poorest American has more wealth at his disposal than virtually all others in the whole of recorded history. Shame on us when we prioritize a newer car or an Iphone higher than the blessing of loving our brethren (other Christians first, then unbelievers as we have opportunity) financially. And think about it: proper financial discipline and priorities are sure to spill over and be translated into godliness in other areas.
     As I've stated elsewhere, Social Security should be a poor substitute for Church Security, the holistic care that the Body of Christ renders to itself. So we've got God's love of giving and His generosity as a model for ours (2 Cor 8:9); next time we'll get into the promised divine supply extended for all Christian giving, and the incredible "food-chain" of grace initiated by God and continued through us.

Photos courtesy of dmich140, gregkendallball

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Worst Slur Ever...

     I started a post on 2 Cor (long overdue!), and then was blown away by the most memorable, blatantly offensive accusation by my less-than-Friendly Neighborhood Atheist;  he'd made hints and veiled allusions on this topic before, but this day I was taken aback by the blatant, X-rated insult this man made at the Person of Jesus Christ.  It's so bad I can't actually relate it (Eph 5:4, 12)... I guess the best way to give context is to ask you to imagine an individual who utterly hates God ascribing to His Son the vilest, pornographic intent.  As I tell FNA, I was speechless;  I had no meaningful, truth-conveying response.  I could only gape.  So this is an excerpt from an email, my best after-the-fact attempt to prove something I hope you never encounter:  a slur based on the supposed homosexuality of Jesus.


    I gotta admit... you've danced around accusing Jesus of homosexuality before, but I was not expecting the offensive situation you described in profane terms.  Congratulations, I was a bit shocked.  You often switch between arguing a non-theist position and a Roman Catholic one (like yesterday);  how many Roman Catholics would be appalled by that insinuation?  So I'm writing to give you the answer I couldn't yesterday...
     So you also challenged me to prove that Jesus wasn't homosexual, which is another first for me.  Of all the objections to Christianity/the Bible, that's not one I run across much.  After some thought, I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt (is your doubt reasonable?) that Jesus was not gay or involved in homosexuality, and I can do so from the biblical characters who hated him most... the Pharisees.
     These guys despised Jesus for His claims to authority, His popularity and His undeniable power over Which one of you convicts me of sin?" (Jn 8:46).
What lawyer would ignore the strongest evidence?
sickness and demons.  They were the ones, under the High Priest Caiaphas, who orchestrated the trial that ended in the Crucifixion.  The Pharisees had accused Jesus of several things:  dalliance with demons (Mt 12:24), breaking the Sabbath (Mk 3:1-6), and finally blasphemy and plotting to destroy the Temple (Mt 26:61, 65).  None of these things were true, of course, but if you read one of the gospel accounts (have you ever done that?), you are constantly peppered with the Pharisees, scribes and rulers' attempts to concoct any excuse to denounce and execute Jesus.  But for three years, they are unable to do so... no charge would stick!  According to the law, Jesus lived a blameless life, so much so that he could ask (with the expectation of deafening silence in reply) "
     So in a strictly religious, fundamental society where working on the Sabbath was a grievous crime, if Jesus was involved in any sort of homosexuality, why wouldn't His mortal enemies use that as ammunition against Him?  In a society where adultery was punishable by death (Jn 8:1-11), how in the world would a famous man like Jesus be gay and not be executed, as the Law of Moses required?  That was exactly the sort of immorality the Pharisees would drool over, not only to discredit Him, but to drag Him out of the city and stone Him.  Even Herod the king couldn't get away with sexual impropriety without public outcry (Mt 14:3-4).  Instead, Jesus's enemies had to pay people to fabricate crimes against Him, something completely unnecessary if sodomy was an element in the life of Jesus.  So your accusation presupposes religious authorities that are far more open-minded and tolerant of homosexuality than even us crazy fundamentalists today!  You must see that historically, first century Israel was anything but welcoming toward a sexual orientation with Canaanite cult associations and Greek mythological ties... most Jews of the day (especially the pious ones) were fiercely xenophobic and disapproving of anything that hinted of foreigners.
Something you'd never see in Jerusalem...
      So it's clear you've painted yourself into a corner;  you can't just dismiss the Bible as corrupted and unreliable as you've done in the past.  You used information from the Bible (Jesus was surrounded by male disciples, He liked children, etc.) in your accusation!  You can't have it both ways... the Bible can't be reliable enough to throw mud at Jesus, but not reliable enough to exonerate Him.  Since you've already gotten your hands dirty, you must concede that there is no logical reason to think Jesus was homosexual, and every reason not to. 
     The only reason to continue this slander is the atheist's creed, summed up by Doug Wilson:  "There is no God, and I hate Him!"  Admit it... you fervently despise Someone you don't believe exists.


Brett Schlee

Photos courtesy of Gulliame Paumier, SalFalko