Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Open Letter

Dear Friend,

This past school year has been a good one.  Maybe someday all the things God is teaching me will be collected enough to blog about, but right now they're swimming around and won't be caught and organized.  Until then, here is a passage that ties together themes of identity in Christ and victory over sin.  (And speaking of sin, isn't it wonderful that God still loves us even when we mess up?)  The passage is quoted from the NIV, which isn't what I normally quote, but while working through the Exegesis of Colossians class, I liked the way the NIV handled the passage.  The passage reminds me of the precious truth that when God gives us new life, He sees us for who He re-made us to be instead seeing our sinful flesh

"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"?  These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."- Colossians 2:20-3:4, NIV

"If you’re a Christian, here’s the good news: Who you really are has nothing to do with you—how much you can accomplish, who you can become, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your sordid past, your family background, your education, your looks, and so on. Your identity is firmly anchored in Christ’s accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his performance, not yours; his victory, not yours." - Tullian Tchividjian

Isn't it restful to know that God has given us everything necessary to live the Christian life through our identity in Christ?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Displaying Grace (through Sin)

One of the greatest parts about being an R.A., and about life in general, is the privilege of living in community with other people.  When the Psalmist wrote "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!", he certainly was right.  But the down side of community, whether in a dorm, the local church, or a family, is that our sins affect each another.  And the longer life goes on, the sicker of sin I get!  It takes God's beautiful, good design and destroys it.  I'm sick of what it does to the world; I'm sick of what it does to my brothers and sisters; and I'm sick of what it does to me.  But the Apostle Paul wrote that even amid sin, God's grace is still working:

Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:18-20; NKJV)

Even sin and it's ugly effects are not outside of God's control, and sin and its ugly effects display God's grace and redemption as glorious.  Luther expressed it well when he wrote to Melanchthon that only a sinner can experience God's grace:

"If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here we have to sin. This life in not the dwelling place of righteousness but, as Peter says, we look for a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."  (Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, "Luther's Works," American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282)

Because of our unique position as sinful created beings whom God has redeemed for Himself, we have the opportunity to experience His grace in a way that would never be possible in a world without sin.  So, sin in the body of Christ is an opportunity to forgiven each other because Christ has forgiven us and to display His redemption and grace against the backdrop of human sin.  With Luther, while we fight sin dwelling in our flesh, we "look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13; NKJV).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rain and Repentance

In Scripture, God uses ordinary events as metaphors; these pictures help us understand His truth.  After it rained today, I was reminded of one metaphor which compares rain to the Word of God:

 "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

The popularity of this verse comes mostly from a mis-application that binds God to save every person who every heard a verse read, since the Word never returns void.  However, the word of God in the immediate context is God’s promise to forgive His peoples’ sins and make an everlasting covenant with them in the person of the Messiah who, as the greater David, brings in the blessings promised to Israel’s great king.  Based on this promise, Isaiah begs God’s disobedient people to stop wasting their money on things that don’t satisfy, and instead to call on Yahweh who would have mercy on them.  And as surely as rain brings crops, so certainly will God bring salvation to His people when they repent and turn to Him. 

The purpose of God’s Word that will never fail is to bring repentance and salvation to God’s people.  As I look out the window at the rain, it reminds me that God’s purpose will be completed and His people will be saved.  In spite men opposing God’s work, God’s people will still repent and experience His mercy.  So what about God’s people who have responded to the purpose of God’s Word?  Now our responsibility is to continue to align ourselves under the Word and to proclaim that Word so that it may continue to accomplish its purpose.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The LORD Reigns!

The LORD reigns,
Let the earth rejoice; 
Let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, 
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness,
and all the peoples see His glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols; 
worship Him, all you gods!
Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of Your judgments, O LORD. 
For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love the LORD, hate evil! 
He preserves the lives of his saints;
He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to His holy name!
Psalm 97

Thursday, November 1, 2012

In Luther's Words...

Instead of sharing Luther’s words in a small status, here is a selection in celebration of Reformation Day.  God used Luther, a fallen human being, to accomplish His purposes, which is comforting to me.

God and the Gospel
“We believe that the very beginning and end of salvation, and the sum of Christianity, consists of faith in Christ, who by His blood alone, and not by any works of ours, has put away sin, and destroyed the power of death.”
“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” 
“This error of free will is a special doctrine of the Antichrist.”
“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”
"He who is well acquainted with the text of Scripture is a distinguished theologian. For a Bible passage or text is of more value than the comments of four authors."

Good Education
“I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God's word becomes corrupt…. I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.”

Theology and Music
“I firmly believe, nor am I ashamed to assert, that next to theology no art is equal to music; for it is the only one, except theology, which is able to give a quiet and happy mind. This is manifestly proved by the fact that the devil, the author of depressing care and distressing disturbances, almost flees from the sound of music as he does from the word of theology. This is the reason why the prophets practiced music more than any art and did not put their theology into geometry, into arithmetic, or into astronomy, but into music, intimately uniting theology and music, telling the truth in psalms and songs….I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise.”

On Studying Greek and Hebrew

"Do you inquire what use there is in learning the languages ...?  Do you say, 'We can read the Bible very well in German?'
Without languages we could not have received the gospel. Languages are the scabbard that contains the sword of the Spirit; they are the casket which contains the priceless jewels of antique thought; they are the vessel that holds the wine; and as the gospel says, they are the baskets in which the loaves and fishes are kept to feed the multitude.
If we neglect the literature we shall eventually lose the gospel ... No sooner did men cease to cultivate the languages than Christendom declined, even until it fell under the undisputed dominion of the pope. But no sooner was this torch relighted, than this papal owl fled with a shriek into congenial gloom ... In former times the fathers were frequently mistaken, because they were ignorant of the languages and in our days there are some who, like the Waldenses, do not think the languages of any use; but although their doctrine is good, they have often erred in the real meaning of the sacred text; they are without arms against error, and I fear much that their faith will not remain pure.”

From His Own Life
“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals.  I have within me a great pope, Self.”
“You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.”
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” 
“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
“I've got so much work to do today, I'd better spend two hours in prayer instead of one.”
“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

"One Thing Needful"

      May I never suppose I am in Christ unless I am a new creature, never think I am born of the Spirit unless I mind the things of the Spirit, never rest satisfied with professions of belief and outward forms and services, while my heart is not right with Thee.
     May I judge my sincerity in religion by my fear to offend Thee, my concern to know Thy will, my willingness to deny myself.
     May nothing render me forgetful of Thy glory, or turn me aside from Thy commands, or shake my confidence in Thy promises, or offend Thy children.
     Let not my temporal occupations injure my spiritual concerns, or the cares of life make me neglect the one thing needful.
     May I not be inattentive to the design of Thy dealings with me, or insensible under Thy rebukes, or immobile at Thy calls.
      May I learn the holy art of abiding in Thee, or being in the world and not of it, of making everything not only consistent with by conducive to my religion.
- "Sincerity" from Valley of Vision

This semester has been overwhelming.  Between RA responsibilities, working in the admissions department, singing in Evidence, serving in church, and being a full-time seminary student, somehow activities overtook life.  It was bad...I'll just leave it at that.

A number of things helped get life back into proper perspective, but one of them was hiding from campus life in a basement over Fall Break.  There was time to sleep, eat fruits and vegetables, sleep more, read some disappointingly limp fiction, sleep some more, and spend more time than usual in devotions.  The lines from Valley of Vision that were particularly meaningful were, "Let not my temporal occupations injure my spiritual concerns, or the cares of life make me neglect the one thing needful."

The semester had become so full of the "temporal occupations" of memorizing music, various prayer meetings late at night, rushing from meeting to meeting, and squeezing bits of Hebrew homework into cracks in the schedule, that the "one things needful" - resting in Christ's finished work on my behalf - had been pushed out of sight, and when that happens, it is only a matter of time before life falls apart.  

There's still a lot to do.  But I hope that I have learned  not to let "temporal occupations" crowd out the "one thing needful."

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in His temple.

- Psalm 27:4

Saturday, October 27, 2012

God's Power and Us

"'Do you not fear me?' declares the LORD. 'Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it.'" - Jeremiah 5:22

I found this verse this morning, and it really stuck out to me, so I went and read Jeremiah 5 to make sure it hadn't been taken out of context.  In Jeremiah 5, God uses this image of His greatness to remind His people that He is great enough to judge their wickedness.  Certainly, God' s power should should cause fear for those who are not His people, but what should God's power do to those who are His people?  Here are just a couple of ideas:

  • His power should cause us to fear Him, both the respect kind of fear and the afraid kind of fear. 
  • His power should create worship towards Him for His mighty acts.
  • His power should compel us to tell the people around us about His greatness. 
  • His power should strengthen our trust in Him because He is big enough to handle all of our problems.
  • His power should re-assure us that we can rest in His sovereignty over us and our lives.
What has God's power done for you?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading the Prophets

For the past 9 months, I have been working my way through the prophetic books during my devotions, spacing them with some Psalms and New Testament epistles.  Although in future I will be organizing my Bible reading system differently, it's been interesting to read so many prophets at one time.  The following notes from the post "Some Guidelines for Reading Prophetic Literature" by Julian Freeman crystallized thoughts that have been forming in my mind over the past months.  Some of the comments could be understood in a number of different ways, so this isn't an endorsement of his blog because I haven't read it extensively.  The comments definitely do a good job of summarizing how to study the prophets and will go into my file of "Things to Refer to Later."  

  1. Because prophets speak mainly to their own day, we need to make sure we understand their day
  2. Don’t be afraid of (good) Study Bibles and commentaries
  3. Read a whole prophetic book rather than just sections; main themes and rhetorical strategies are important for interpreting the various parts
  4. Use a cross-referencing system to see how the NT interprets / borrows the passages you’re reading
  5. In apocalypse, remember the big picture: This world is messed up beyond repair and exists in a state of turmoil until God intervenes by judgement, bringing victory for the good, which ushers in a time of peace, where justice reigns
  6. In highly image-driven apocalyptic sections, always remember that the author’s main purpose was to effect change in his contemporaries; if our interpretation doesn’t include a call to holiness in the present, our interpretation is wrong
  7. Always look for the persistence of hope: the shining of the light of redemption through the dark clouds of God’s judgement; this is where the nature of our God is magnified—this is where we see the cross
  8. Because the prophets write to a people in a different covenantal  relationship, the application is less direct; the application will spring from the heart of God revealed in his dealings with his people
  9. Application should always be done through Jesus, the one who lived our righteousness, became sin, and took our curse so that we could know the hope & blessing the prophets extend to the righteous.
  10. Prophecies of judgement, showing us the wrath of God toward sin, and what we truly deserve, should always make us more thankful for the cross.
 Freeman cites How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee & Stuart, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation by Kostenberger and Patterson, and Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Church Music: Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Another favorite bit of doctrinal church music is the Christmas hymn "Hark the Herald Angels  Sing."  Being one of those people who listens to Christmas carols anytime between December 1 and September 30, the hymns is a constant reminder of the miracle of the Incarnation.

Charles Wesley published the original words to the hymn in 1739 in a series of 10 stanzas of 4 lines each.  Wesley paired with the words with a stately melody, reflecting the hymn's weighty doctrinal content.  After Wesley's death, George Whitefield altered the language and structure of the stanzas into the form we know today.  He also matched the words with today's familiar melody which he borrowed from a cantata by Felix Mendelssohn.

Compared to other songs, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" has undergone significant revision, but it still expresses the truth of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, inseparably united in one Person forever.

Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King,
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with the angelic host proclaim,
'Christ is born in Bethlehem.'
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
hail, the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace:
hail, the Sun of Righteousness.
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman's conquering seed,
bruise in us the serpent's head;

Adam's likeness now efface
stamp Thine image in its place.
Second Adam from above
reinstate us in Thy love.
Hark, the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.

And, tipping my hat to the carol's British origin, here's a fine performance in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, UK.  (Although, I think it would be uncomfortable to wear one of those white collars, don't you?)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Does Greek Give You "Special Knowledge"?

Last weekend, I was sitting at a coffee bar with some friends in a small coffee house in South Dakota.  The owner of the shop asked me what I was doing with my life, and I told him I was working on my masters' degree in biblical languages.  When he heard this, he answered that he he had a friend who studied biblical languages.  "Does studying Greek and Hebrew give you new insight into what the Bible means?" he asked.

It's an interesting question.  Most of the Greek and Hebrew students I know, myself I included, study the languages to help them study the Bible better.  We get pretty excited when we study I John and discover that the present tense is continuous action.  Some of us are thrilled to build an outline out of Greek adverbial markers.  And don't even get us started on the difference between the two primary words for knowledge in the New Testament...!

But does knowing Greek give us any special knowledge (pardon the gnostic reference:)?  "No," I told the man.  "It's kind of like looking at a picture in black and white or color.  There isn't anything added to the picture when you see it in color, but you can see the details better.  You don't need to know Greek to know what the Bible really says.  It says the same thing in Greek that it does in English."

Knowing Greek is a great benefit, but the knowledge of God which gives us everything necessary for live and godliness is available through our accurate English translations.  Why?  Because it is not ultimately us or our accurate translation that causes us to understand the Bible.  It is God's Holy Spirit.

"But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But as it is written, 'What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him" - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit searches everything even the depths of God....Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." - 1 Corinthians 2:7-12