Monday, December 31, 2012

the nicene creed

Mark A. Noll in Turning Points on the Nicene Creed:

The bishops who met at Nicaea were not all of one mind, either on the seriousness of the Arian threat or on the best means of meeting it. But their declaration of first principles eventually, after a struggle lasting for most of the rest of the fourth century, became a bedrock for Christian life and theology. The council’s key assertions were as follows:
  1. Christ was true God from true God. Jesus himself was God in the same sense that the Father was God. Differentiation between Father and Son may refer to the respective tasks each took on or to the relationship in which each stands to the other. But the key matter is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all truly God.
  2. Christ was consubstantial [of one substance] with the Father. The Greek word used in this phrase (homoousios, from homo-, “same,” and ousia, “substance”) led to great controversy, both because this technical philosophical term is not found in the Bible and because a large faction in the church preferred the assertion that Jesus was “of a similar substance with the Father” (using the key word homoiousios, from homoi, “similar,” plus ousia; later writers referred dramatically to the importance of the distinguishing i, or iota, the smallest Greek letter). In the end homoousios won out because it reinforced as unequivocally as possible the fact that Christ was truly “very God of very God.” The term was held to be a just summary of Jesus’s own teaching, that “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30).
  3. Christ was begotten, not made. That is, Jesus was never formed as all other things and persons had been created but was from eternity the Son of God.
  4. Christ became human for us humans and for our salvation. This phrase succinctly summarized the burden of Athanasius’s concern, that Christ could not have brought salvation to his people if Christ were only a creature. Humanity could not pull itself up to God. Salvation was of God.


Community is at the core of the church, essential to both evangelism and discipleship. Howard Snyder writes, “At its most basic level the church is a community, not a hierarchy; an organism, not an organization (Mt. 18: 20; Rom. 12: 5– 8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4: 1– 16; 1 Pet. 4: 10– 11)” (The Community of the King, p. 73). Later he adds, “Many churches do not share the gospel effectively because their communal experience of the gospel is too weak and tasteless to be worth sharing…. But where Christian fellowship demonstrates the gospel, believers come alive and sinners get curious and want to know what the secret is. So true Christian community (koinonia) becomes both the basis and the goal of evangelism…. The community is the only effective school for discipleship. For these reasons, building true koinonia is an indispensable link in the life cycle of church growth” (p. 147).

Donahue, Bill (2012-04-24). Leading Life-Changing Small Groups (Groups that Grow) (Kindle Locations 230-237). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 


Yannic Labossé playing September - wonderful!

leading to crucifixion

Continuing on with Mark D. Roberts writing on the Kingdom of God, here is his post on How Does the Message of Jesus Lead to His Crucifixion?

In my last post, I wrapped up an extended answer to the question: How is the kingdom of God coming? I showed that Jesus, contrary to the expectations of his disciples and, indeed, all other first-century Jews, believed that the kingdom of God would come as the Messiah drank the cup of God’s wrath, offering himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10:35-45). Jesus envisioned his role as Messiah – though he preferred the enigmatic title, Son of Man – as leading to his death in Jerusalem. During his last meal with his disciples, Jesus symbolized his death by recasting the imagery of the Passover meal to focus on himself and his sacrifice. Even as God once led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, so Jesus would lead God’s people out of bondage to sin and its consequences by taking the due penalty for sin upon himself.

But, you might wonder, why would this sense of his calling get Jesus crucified? Surely what Jesus thought about his future was odd and unexpected, and quite disconcerting to some Jewish leaders, but was it a reason to have him put to death? In our effort to understand how the message of Jesus led to his crucifixion, we seem to be missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. And, indeed, we are.

The missing piece is the other watershed event, in addition to The Last Supper, that happened in Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus’ life: the so-called cleansing of the Temple. It comes after Jesus’ grand entrance into the city, an entrance fit for a king – literally. No doubt many of those who welcomed Jesus with their hosannas expected him to go to the Temple, the center of Jewish life and faith, and announce the beginning of the end of Roman rule over Judea. But when Jesus entered the Temple, not only did he not do what was expected, but, once more, he did something utterly unexpected and, I might add, unappreciated. As Mark tells the story,

[Jesus] began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple (11:15-16)

What rationale did Jesus offer for such shocking behavior? Marks adds,

He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers. (11:17)

The phrase, “den of robbers,” comes from the prophecy of Jeremiah (7:11), where God condemned the Israelites for being unfaithful to him and believing that they could hide in the spiritual protection of the temple, just like thieves in their hideout. Jeremiah’s prophecy spelled doom for the temple, which God was about to destroy as a part of his judgment upon Israel (7:12-15). By using this passage, Jesus not only inferred that the temple authorities were dishonest thieves, but also that God was about to judge the temple and destroy it. Not exactly a way to win friends and influence people among the Jerusalem priesthood.

Jesus was not the only Jew in his day to criticize the Temple. Many of the common folk despised its heavy taxation and financial corruptness, while the Essenes from Qumran wrote it off completely as spiritually bankrupt. But Jesus’ action in the temple, combined with his citation of Jeremiah, was a frontal assault on the central institution of Judaism in his day. Moreover, he explicitly undermined the authority of the entrenched temple hierarchy. It’s no wonder that “the chief priests and the scribes,” when they heard what Jesus had done, “kept looking for a way to kill him” (Mark 11:18). A prophetic rabble-rouser in Galilee could be ignored; one who defamed the temple itself needed to be dispatched quickly. The problem for the authorities, however, was the widespread popularity of Jesus. Now if they could only get the Romans to crucify Jesus . . . . (For a more in-depth study of why Jesus’ actions in the Temple led to his death, see “The ‘Crime’ of Jesus” in my series Why Did Jesus Have to Die? )

If you’ve been following my series on the message of Jesus, you can see that his action in the temple wasn’t merely a ploy to get himself killed. Rather, it was the logical conclusion to his proclamation of the kingdom of God – a kingdom in which forgiveness comes from Jesus directly, without the mediation of temple, priest, or sacrifice. In the coming kingdom of God, in the new covenant inaugurated through Jesus’ own sacrifice, there is no need for a temple in Jerusalem, or anyplace else for that matter. Instead, in the coming kingdom of God:

See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; and he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll tie up a few loose ends and suggest how the message of Jesus might be lived out among his people today.

meaning of judgment

Regarding the Newtown shootings; professing christians offered some ok thinking but mostly a lot of really bad thinking. Doug Wilson offered some thoughts on the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. I copied a few good posts here. Now Doug Wilson proffers the true meaning of judgement which I think helps properly refocus the conversation.

In the long aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, one of the things that has become apparent in the midst of all the recriminations is we do not know how divine judgment works. We do not yet know how God operates, and we do not see how diseased our culture has actually become. We are not only visited with horrors like the shooting, but also with the horror of officially sanctioned nonsense circling over the first horror like an opportunistic murder of crows.

To the extent that Christians think about cultural judgments at all (which is not as much as it should be), we tend to think that because we have done this bad thing "over here," then that other bad thing might happen "over there." This might be the case early on, when the judgments are still warning shots, like the collapse of the tower at Siloam.

But what we are dealing with is a judicial stupor across the board, and it is the hand of God upon us. This means the darkness is settling in over everything. God is the one who strikes with blindness (Ex. 4:11), and He knows how to do it. Our prayer must be for a black swan reformation or, failing that, that God will encircle His people with the angel of the Lord (Ps. 34:7), protecting them from the chaos of justice outside (Zeph. 2:3)
"For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: The prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered" (Is. 29:10).
The central judgment upon us is that we do not understand the judgments. Our seers, our poets, our writers, our essayists, our producers and directors, our pundits, and our prophets all spend their time giving one another "blindest of all" awards at the Kennedy Center.

God is not just judging us for abortion; He is judging us with abortion. He is not just judging us for homosexual marriage; He is judging us with homosexual marriage. He is not just judging us for confiscatory taxation; He is judging us with confiscatory taxation.

We need to get this principle down. Adultery is not just a sin for which there will be judgment later on. Adultery is itself a punishment (Prov. 22:14). God does not just strike a man for adultery; He strikes him with adultery. Homosexuality is not just a sin for which there will be judgment; it is the result of the judgment already falling (Rom. 1:24-28). God does not just judge us for gay pride parades -- He is judging us with gay pride parades.

So again, what sense does it make for us to set all our hopes on all the parliaments of the blind voting to bring back blue?

If this the hand of God, then only God can stay His hand. And in order for God to stay His hand, it must be in accordance with the terms of His everlasting gospel -- Christ crucified and risen for all the world. And how will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent?

There will be some who try to slip off the point by pointing out that I was not even-handed in this -- I condemned abortion and homosexual marriage, for example, but not gun ownership. Doesn't all America -- both left and right -- need to repent of her sins? Yes, but gun ownership is not a sin. It is a virtue. Neither is the ownership of 30-round ammo clips a sin. That's a virtue too. Sin is defined by the law of God, and not by the night terrors of the recipients of Kennedy Center awards.

So all America -- left and right -- does need to repent of her sins. Abortion, sodomy, statist thieveries, voting for purblind leaders, secularism, fornication, and child abuse. That'll do to start with.

And Christians, in the meantime, need to learn how to see this unraveling spectacle as a severe instance of what God is doing to America with the left, and not a example of what the left is doing to America in spite of God. As though "in spite of God" were a real category! Fools and blind!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

end of year psalm

Mark D. Roberts posts an inspiration form the high calling. His post reminded me of a habit I've developed around my birthday. Every year, at that time, I consider the days of my life so that I might gain a heart of wisdom.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. ~ Psa 90.12 (cf Psa 35.4-5; 89.47; 90.4; 1 Cor 7.31; James 4.14)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. ~ Ecc 12.13-14

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Mic 6.8

It's not my birthday but Roberts has prompted me to consider this today. I have lived 18,668 days. If I make it to the national average of 74, I have only 8,332 remaining. I may be blessed and live to 80 (Psa 90.10) and if so, I have 10,515 remaining. Either way, I am as a vapor.

Here is Roberts' post:

Psalm 90:1-17

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. ~ Psalm 90:12

Psalm 90 is a perfect psalm for the end of the year. For one thing, this psalm includes the word “year” more than any other psalm. In the Hebrew text of Psalm 90, the word translated as “year” (shena) appears seven times. No other psalm includes shena more than twice.

But, apart from the frequency of the word “year” in Psalm 90, its themes speak to us as we wrap up another calendar year. It begins by noting that God has been our home “through all the generations,” from year to year to year (90:1). Even “before the mountains were born,” God is God (90:2). God is always there for us.

Though we can make a big deal out of the change of years, from God’s perspective, “a thousand years are as a passing day” (90:4). This fact reminds us of God’s unmatched majesty. It also suggests that all the hype surrounding New Year’s doesn’t really matter in the long run. Tomorrow night, the big crystal ball will fall in Times Square, but what will really be different, other than the number of the year?

Psalm 90 acknowledges the difficulties of life: “Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away” (90:10). Now that could sound pretty depressing. But, the fact that the Bible doesn’t “make nice” commends to us its truthfulness. Yes, indeed, even when life is fine for us, others are suffering. We may have plenty to eat, but millions throughout the world are without food today. And we might feel as if we’re going to live forever, but, in fact, our days are numbered.

Does this mean we should get all down in the mouth? Hardly. Verse 12 offers this prayer to the Lord: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” The Hebrew of this verse could be translated literally, “Teach us to count our days, so we might gain a heart of wisdom.” How does acknowledging the brevity of life help us to be wise? Well, for one thing, when we realize that we have only so many hours on earth, we’ll be eager to use them well, rather than frittering them away with empty activities. Accepting the limits of our lives will help us to use well every minute God gives us.

Psalm 90 underscores the fact that fulfillment in life isn’t a matter of how much we have or how much we accomplish. Rather, what gives life purpose and meaning is a living relationship with the living God: “Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (90:14). I can’t think of a better thought with which to end the year and begin a new one. If we live each day in the satisfaction of God’s love, we will be empowered to live for him, to love him through serving our neighbors. We won’t fret about the passing of the years, but will accept the gift of each day as a new opportunity for love and service.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you come to the end of the year, what thoughts do you have about 2012? Have you lived this year to the fullest? In what areas of life do you need more of God’s wisdom? Are you open to being satisfied each day with God’s unfailing love for you?

PRAYER: All praise be to you, O God, because you have been our home through all generations. We are always at home with you, and you are always there for us. All praise be to you, O God, because you see all of time in a single moment. Years are like seconds to you. Your wisdom and majesty exceed anything we can imagine. All praise be to you, O God, because you make your presence known to us, even and especially in times of trial. When our years are filled with pain, they are also filled with your love.

All praise be to you, O God, because you help us to be wise. You teach us through your Word. You instruct and guide us through your Spirit.

All praise be to you, O God, because your unfailing love is there for us each morning. How we sing for joy because of your goodness to us.

All praise be to you, O God, because you have been with us in this past year, and you will be with us always! Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

big picture 2012 part 2

More great snaps from part II 2012 Year in Pictures:

a ham and cheese sandwich

I thank Doug Wilson for providing a grid for understanding a couple of posts in which the authors claimed to disagree with each other yet to me, both were correct. This is not an uncommon problem, i.e., two people arguing rightly about two different things. Both are correct but when taken as addressing the same point and missing the larger picture, we see what appears to be a fight. Here's Wilson's analysis.

So here are four things that are, unless I miss my guess, all part of the same conversation. Mark Galli reviews Kevin DeYoung's book on Holiness; here, and Justin Taylor tweeted this about it -- "Galli's critique of DeYoung on holiness seems very difficult to square with Heb 12:14." Then Tullian wrote this about the sense in which Christians are still totally depraved, and Rick Phillips had this to say about that.

Me? I agree with everybody.

But the reason we are struggling to get through to each other is, I think, a problem with our theological lab equipment. Before proceeding further, let me put my orthodoxy hat on so that everyone who reads these words will be magically prevented from misunderstanding what I am about to say. There. It's on, even though it might be at something of a rakish angle.

Tullian is fighting for sola gratia. Rick is fighting for sola fide. Kevin is fighting for the necessary connection between justification and sanctification. Justin says hey, what about this verse? Me? I agree with everybody.

The fact that we are justified through the instrument of faith alone does not mean that we can get faith alone, laid out flat on a table where we can dissect it. I can (and must) distinguish justification and sanctification, but if I successfully separate them, then I will just have two dead pieces of the ordo, one in each hand. I can distinguish Christ in me from me, but if I separate them, I don't have a thought experiment (what would a Christian without Jesus be like?), I rather have a damned soul.

If you take the cheese away from a ham and cheese sandwich, the first thing you should notice is that you don't have a ham and cheese sandwich anymore.

the problem held as the solution

Mark Fox writes a helpful post regarding a current unhealthy worldview. Note his caveat in the beginning and do not nit-pick the point, proper love of God will result in a proper view of oneself, but love of self as a solution to lack of love of self is deadly. Here's Fox's post:

What if you went to the doctor because you couldn’t sleep and he told you that your problem was that you sleep too much? “You’re sleeping two hours a night? That’s your problem! You need to sleep no more than 10 minutes a day,” he says as you nod off in his office. Or, what if you went to a nutritionist because you want to eat better and she told you that your biggest problem was an over-emphasis on healthy eating. “Eat more doughnuts and candy,” she said. “And fried stuff. Cram that in more often,” she adds, as you nod your head in disbelief. We have a hard time understanding, and rightfully so, when the problem is held up as solution. Or, do we? Not really. At least, not when it comes to the whole idea of “loving yourself.”

Now, before you run to fire off a rebuttal to me, listen for a second. I am not suggesting we need to hate ourselves. Not at all. But the truth is, what the Bible holds up as a big problem, our culture has embraced as a golden solution to nearly every social ill. Google “self-esteem” or “loving yourself” and browse some of the millions of selections that come up. Take a walk through the “self-help” aisle at your local bookstore and read some of the titles that promise to teach you more effective ways to love yourself, to make yourself happy, to ensure you “look out for number one.” It’s a popular theme in music, as in Whitney Houston’s smash hit, “The Greatest Love of All.” Some of the lyrics include, “Because the greatest love of all is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me … Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” A blogger wrote this about Houston’s song: “Forgive me, but I have the greatest video montage of all in my mind for this. It would include a series of images representative of what is being spelled out here. First you would see a man in a field with his arms wrapped around himself, dancing and leaping for joy. Then you would see a man in a straight jacket embracing himself in a mental institution. Then the scene would shift to a woman holding flowers, boldly proclaiming that she bought flowers for herself because she deemed herself more than worthy. The video then would conclude with a recent news story about a woman who recently proposed to and married herself with many emotional onlookers” (Man in the Woods).

With all due respect to the memory of the late Whitney Houston, the greatest love of all cannot be found “inside of me.” Quite the opposite. Looking inward for hope, help, self-esteem, courage, joy, peace or love is the very thing the Bible teaches us not to do. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul as he writes his last letter to Timothy: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self.” He goes on to describe 17 odious symptoms, things like arrogance, pride, brutality, treachery and more. It’s a nasty sandwich pictured there, with the top piece of bread being “love of self,” and the bottom piece being “not a lover of God.”

That’s the answer. The opposite of self-hatred is not self-love. It is love for God, which produces a healthy love for others. The solution cannot be found “within us.” It can only be found outside of us, the creature, and in him, the Creator.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

so really, how is the kingdom coming?

Here are parts 4-6 of How Is The Kingdom of God Coming from Mark D. Roberts:

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 4

In my last post in this series, I examined the passage in Mark 8 where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30). But, when Jesus starting talking about the Son of Man suffering and dying, Peter rebuked Jesus, who in turn rebuked Peter for thinking in human, not divine terms (8:31-33). Peter, like most of his Jewish compatriots, expected the kingdom of God to come in power. The Messiah would lead this victorious charge and share in God’s glory, not suffer and die along in the process.

Peter was not the only one of Jesus’ disciples to be confused over the nature of his messianic calling. Two chapters later in Mark, Jesus once again informed his closest followers that he, as Son of Man, was going to be assaulted and killed (10:33-34). Immediately after Jesus said this, James and John approached him and asked, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (10:37). Rather cheeky, don’t you think, not to mention obtuse. Jesus responded by asking James and John if they were able to drink the cup that he drinks, and then by informing them that it was not his job to decide who gets to sit at his right or left hand (10:38-40). (The idea of the cup Jesus drinks deserves further attention, and will be the subject of my next post in this series.) When the other disciples heard what James and John were plotting, they became angry, presumably because they wanted to sit by Jesus in his glory. Jesus proceeded to rebuke the whole lot of them:
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.” (10:42-45)
The attitudes exhibited by James and John, and the rest of the disciples for that matter, are inconsistent with the way of Jesus, which leads to greatness but only through servanthood . The prime illustration of this paradox? Jesus’ own destiny as Son of Man. Here, for the first time, Jesus supplies a hint as to the reason for his imminent death. He is going to give up his life as a “ransom for many.”

Jesus wasn’t the first Jew in Second Temple Judaism to speak of giving up one’s life for the sake of others. A century and a half before, Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, urged his sons to “show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors” (1 Maccabees 2:50). The Maccabean brothers were to fight to the death for the sake of their faith. Even closer to Jesus’ understanding of his sacrifice is a description of martyrdom found in 4 Maccabees: “[Those who died] having become, as it were, a ransom [antipsychon ] for the sin of our nation. And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated” (4 Macc 4:21-22). Here, the willingness of Jewish people to suffer and die rather than compromise their faithfulness to God is seen as making up for the sin of the Jewish people, which in turn motivated God to preserve the nation.

These texts from the Maccabean literature and Jesus’ description of his own sacrifice in Mark 10 were inspired by two crucial chapters from the prophet Isaiah. These chapters begin with a hopeful vision of the coming of God’s kingdom:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isa 52:7)

But then the passage takes an unexpected turn, picturing God’s servant as anything but attractive (Isa 52:14-53:2). Moreover,

He was despised and rejected by othersa man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;and as one from whom others hide their faceshe was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isa 53:3)

Yet this Suffering Servant endured such scorn for the sake of others:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him as the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. . . . Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, . . . (Isa 53:4-5, 12)
Although this passage from Isaiah does not use the word “ransom” (lutron in Mark 10:45), it clearly conveys the idea of one who suffers for the sake of others, so that they might be made whole. Through his painful death, the Servant of God bears the sins of others. And somehow this is part and parcel of the coming of God’s kingdom announced at the beginning of Isaiah 52.

Of course what makes Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:45 so curious is that he doesn’t speak of the Servant of God giving his life as a ransom for many, but the Son of Man filling this role. There’s nothing in the Hebrew Scriptures to suggest that the Son of Man would bring the kingdom through some sort of sacrificial death. We don’t find this connection in the Maccabean literature or in other Jewish writings either. Jesus is weaving together disparate strands of Jewish tradition to create a unique tapestry of the coming kingdom. He, as Messiah and Son of Man, will bring the kingdom, but only by fulfilling the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53. For the first time in the Gospels, we see a part of Jesus’ rationale for suffering and dying. He will bear the sin of many in order to bring the healing and forgiveness of God’s kingdom.

In my next post I’ll examine in greater detail Jesus’ curious statement about drinking the cup (Mark 10:39). This, as it turns out, provides another window through which we can glimpse Jesus’ sense of his passionate destiny.

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 5

In my last post I began to comment on the passage in Mark 10 where James and John ask Jesus: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mk 10:37). Of course the fact that Jesus has just spoken for the second time about his imminent death doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression of these two disciples. Jesus responds by saying, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mk 10:38). James and John eagerly reply, “We are able” (Mk 10:39), to which Jesus adds, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mk 10:39).

What is Jesus talking about? Do you feel rather like James and John at this point, not really knowing what this talk of a “cup” is all about? It’s worth understanding this allusion, not only to get the point of this passage in Mark, but also to get insight into Jesus’ understanding of his approaching death.

In several passages of the Old Testament, the cup is a symbol of God’s wrath. (By using the word “wrath,” I’m not referring to God’s anger alone, but also just judgment upon sin.) In Psalm 75, for example, we read:
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed; he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)
Or, take the following passage from Isaiah, which appears shortly before the description of the suffering servant in chapters 52-53.
Rouse yourself, rouse yourself! Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl of staggering. . . . (Isa 51:17)
In a similar passage, the Lord speaks to the prophet Jeremiah:
Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them. (Jer 25:15-16)
In each of these passages, the “cup” is a symbol of God’s wrath. Drinking the cup is equivalent to receiving God’s righteous judgment.

So when Jesus speaks to James and John of drinking from the cup, he is once again using the language of the prophets. He himself will drink from the cup of God’s wrath, though not because he deserves it. A few verses later, Jesus elaborates further by explaining his calling as Son of Man, namely, “to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45). In Jewish speculation, the Son of Man would come to execute God’s judgment upon the wicked gentiles. But Jesus redefines this mission. Now he will take God’s judgment upon himself. He will drink deeply of the cup of divine wrath, even dying so that others may live.

In Mark 10 we find, not only Jesus’ second prediction of his imminent death, but also the beginning of a rationale for this seemingly paradoxical fate. Jesus will be killed, not only because of opposition from Jewish and Roman leaders in Jerusalem, but also, on a deeper level, because he is going to drink the cup of divine wrath. He is going to bear the sin of Israel, indeed, as we learn later on, the sin of the world. This is his unique and unexpected calling as Messiah and Son of Man. When human sin has been righteously judged, when Jesus has borne the penalty in his own person, then and only then will God’s kingdom be able to come on earth.

The imagery of the cup suggests another crucial scene in Jesus’ ministry, of course, the Last Supper. In my next post I’ll begin to examine this episode, which reveals even more profoundly the reason for Jesus’ death and its connection to the coming of God’s kingdom.

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 6

In my last post, I discussed Jesus’ rather elliptical response to James and John when they ask to sit alongside him in his glory. “You do not know what you are asking,” he says. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” (Mark 10:38). The cup, following Old Testament usage, stands for God’s wrathful judgment upon sin. Jesus will drink the cup, bearing this judgment by suffering and dying. This, he believes, is part and parcel of his messianic calling, and necessary if the kingdom of God is to come in its fullness.

Jesus’ reference to the cup reminds us of another crucial incident in his ministry, one that perhaps more than any other reveals his own understanding of his imminent death. This incident, of course, is what we call The Last Supper: Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before he is betrayed and crucified.

In the Gospel of Mark, this final meal occurs on the occasion of the Passover, the great Jewish feast that commemorates the Exodus, when God delivered the Jews from bondage in Egypt. Jesus eats this meal, not with his natural family as would be typical, but with his “kingdom family,” if you will, his closest disciples. Here is Mark’s description of the key moments of this feast:

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:22-25)

It’s all to easy for Christians to miss the potential scandal of Jesus’ action. He and his followers are remembering God’s salvation of Israel from Egypt, not to mention God’s faithfulness to his people throughout the ages. Jesus, as host, is directing the meal, when he makes a most unexpected pair of assertions. “This is my body” and “This is my blood of the covenant.” Until that moment in history, the Passover was preeminently about God, and secondarily about Israel. But now Jesus, an apparently faithful Jewish man leading a celebration of the Passover, says in so many words: “Really, this is all about me !” Astounding! Shocking!

If you have a hard time relating to the apparent offense of these statements, suppose that this Sunday when I celebrate communion at Laity Lodge, instead of saying to the people, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you,” I were to say, “This is my body, the body of Mark Roberts. Here is God’s salvation, in me.” Blasphemy, you say!? Indeed! My future as Senior Director of Laity Lodge would suddenly be in jeopardy, I can assure you.

Yet this is more or less like what Jesus was doing with the Passover. Either he was struck by a fit of megalomania, or he was somehow telling the startling truth of his life and mission. Even as Passover was all about God’s salvation of Israel, now that salvation was being embodied in Jesus himself.

Jesus refers to the cup of wine as “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). This is an allusion to the story in Exodus 24, where the people of Israel endorse God’s covenant. Then Moses, having sacrificed many animals, “took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (24:7-8). The new covenant will be ratified with blood, but in this case with the spilled blood of Jesus, who, like the lambs sacrificed in the first Passover, will give his life so that God’s people might be spared.

Jesus wasn’t the first one to connect the blood of the covenant with the coming of God’s kingdom. In fact the prophet Zechariah made this same connection in a passage we associate with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!Lo, your king comes to you;triumphant and victorious is he,humble and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey.He will cut off the chariot from Ephraimand the war horse from Jerusalem;and the battle bow shall be cut off,and he shall command peace to the nations;his dominion shall be from sea to sea,and from the River to the ends of the earth.As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. (Zech 9:9-11)

Because of God’s covenant with Israel, which was ratified with the blood of sacrificed animals, God’s king will rule over a global kingdom and God’s people will be redeemed from bondage. Jesus comes as the divinely-anointed king, not at first to lead Israel to victory, however, but to offer his own blood so that the new covenant and God’s universal kingdom might be inaugurated (see also Jeremiah 31).

Through the actions and words of the Last Supper, Jesus says:

Even as God once saved his people from slavery in Egypt, so God is now saving his people from slavery to sin through me.

Even as the blood of lambs once enabled death to “pass over” Israel, so my blood will lead to the forgiveness of sin.

Even as the first covenant was sealed with sacrificial blood, so the new covenant will be sealed through my blood, poured out for many.

I am choosing the way of death, Jesus says, so that the new life of the new covenant may come. My sacrifice will overcome the problem of sin, so that God’s kingdom may be established in all its fullness.

In the last line of The Last Supper in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus himself points to the coming of the kingdom: “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (14:25). Though Jesus is about to die as a ransom for many, he has hope of a new day, when the kingdom will come and there will be a grand messianic banquet. Yet before this happens, Jesus must fulfill his unique calling by offering his body and blood for salvation.

fiscal cliff fear

Adam Davidson with some fiscal cliff wisdom ... let's not lock our politicians in a room to solve the fiscal cliff but rather compel them to have a 5 year plan.

at salvation

Bill Clem outlines 10 things that happen at the moment of salvation. The notion of when or what the moment is warrants some unpacking but the list is interesting and helpful nonetheless.

  1. You are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18–20).
  2. You are forgiven for all of your sins (Col. 2:13).
  3. You become a child of God (John 3:3, 7).
  4. You are accepted by God (Eph. 1:6).
  5. You are justified by Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:1–5:1).
  6. You are brought close to God (Eph. 2:13).
  7. You are delivered from the power of darkness (2 Cor. 4:3–4; Col. 1:13).
  8. You join the people of God (1 Pet. 2:9).
  9. You are granted access to God (Heb. 4:16; 10:10–20).
  10. You receive an inheritance (Eph. 1:14; Col. 3:24; 1 Pet 1:4; Heb. 9:15).

falling plates

Falling plates ... a gospel story ...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

the canon

I couldn't read it all but in case you are sitting around today wondering what's up with the canon:

Michael Kruger identifies 10 common misconceptions (or misunderstandings) about the origins and development of the NT Canon:

 These are misconceptions that are not only held by the average layman, but are often shared by those in the academic community as well.  It is always difficult to know how such misunderstandings develop and are promulgated. Sometimes they are just ideas that are repeated so often that no one bothers (anymore) to see if they have merit. In other cases, these ideas have been promoted through popular presentations of the canon’s origins (e.g., The Da Vinci Code). And in other cases, scholars have made sustained arguments for some of these positions (though, in my opinion, those arguments are not, in the end, convincing). Either way, it is time for these issues to be dusted off and reconsidered.
Here is his top 10:
  1. The term “canon” can only refer to a fixed, closed list of books
  2. Nothing in early Christianity dictated that there would be a canon
  3. The New Testament authors did not think they were writing Scripture
  4. New Testament books were not regarded as scriptural until around 200 A.D.
  5. Early Christians disagreed widely over the books which made it into the canon
  6. In the early stages, apocryphal books were as popular as the canonical books
  7. Christians had no basis to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy until the fourth century
  8. Early Christianity was an oral religion and therefore would have resisted writing things down
  9. The canonical gospels were certainly not written by the individuals named in their titles
  10. Athanasius’ Festal Letter (367 A.D.) is the first complete list of New Testament books

Saturday, December 22, 2012

thick skins

Doug Wilson on how we might engage the culture ...

Lee Habeeb recently wrote a piece here for National Review Online, in which he was encouraging Christians to engage winsomely with our surrounding culture, and to make our peace with the way some things were going. He used the example of gay marriage in the civil sphere. David French wrote a very fine response here, but the money quote is below.
"It took me a long time to realize the following truth: No matter how compassionate, charitable, winsome, and kind you are, if you oppose the sexual revolution you are the enemy."
And this is precisely why Christians need to learn how to not care at all about certain things, and to care enormously about others. This is what I mean by having thick skin and a tender heart. Hint: this "caring" response must not be measured and evalued by the state-certified Curators of the Perpetual Grievance. They figured out (a long time ago) how to use the tender consciences of Christians against them. It is time that we got wise to that game. The fact that God knows our many faults (Ps. 130:3) does not mean that they have a right to bring charges against us (Ps. 31:13). David had many faults, and he was often attacked with them -- but he was not attacked for them.
Think of it this way:
"With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you . . .(1 Pet. 4:4, ESV).
When they are surprised, we ought not to be. We ought not to be surprised when we don't join them, obviously, and we ought not to be surprised when they malign us for it, just as the apostle Peter outlined for us in the briefing beforehand.
Christians are trained, catechized, to care about the testimony we have with the world. This is important, as Peter does mention in the passage that follows. When we suffer, it ought not be because of murder, or theft, or doing evil, or as a busybody (v. 15). If you are being an outlaw, or a jerk, or a comstockian fusser, and then cry persecution when called on it, that really is a problem. But once Christians learn this lesson about the importance of a good testimony, they almost always start policing their own ranks in a way that ignores what Peter says in all the surrounding context.
We don't have a poor testimony just because a bunch of "outraged" pagans have agreed to claim that we do. When some Christian says something that is not politically correct, and the baddies all go into outrage mode, calling for apologies, we have to understand that they are running a play from their handbook.
If we go through a fiery trial, we ought not to think that "some strange thing" is happening (v. 12). If we partake in Christ's sufferings (which includes being slandered), Peter says that we are to rejoice. This lines up with what Jesus taught us on the same subject (Matt. 5:12). If you are reproached for the name of Christ, then you are happy -- and the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (v. 14).
This is why, in the Olympic games of our culture wars, it is possible to win a gold medal from God when a bunch of your fellow Christians are embarrassed even to look at you. And that is also why this particular kind of gold medal doesn't usually go to your head -- you can't hear the national anthem over all the sobbing, and the podium you are standing on is barely visible any more because of the great heap of rotting produce, dead cats, and other objects of questionable origin.
So here is the key. When you are reproached for the sake of Christ, the adversary will almost never issue a press release saying that you are being attacked because you are such a fine Christian. Why would they do that? The point of slander is to make the slander stick. And the point of gullible Christians is to believe them, try to witness to them while staying in line (according to them), and to upbraid you for having provoked them so. 

how is the kingdom coming?

Continuing on from when the Kingdom is coming, Mark D. Roberts now addresses how the Kingdom of God comes. Here are parts 1 through 3:

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 1

So far in this series, What Was the Message of Jesus?, we’ve seen that the core of Jesus’ proclamation was “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). In my most recent posts in this series, I focused on the question of when the kingdom of God is coming. In fact, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as something both present and future, as something “already and not yet” here on earth. Like a mustard seed, God’s reign begins as something small and insignificant, but in time it will become great and glorious.

This leads to an obvious question: How is the kingdom of God coming, according to Jesus? By what means will God begin to reign on earth more fully and obviously?

Before addressing this question, I want to survey other Jewish options in Jesus’ day.

First-Century Jewish Views on the Coming of the Kingdom of God

In the first century, there were a variety of answers to the question of how God’s reign would come on earth. Some Jews believed that the kingdom would come through armed rebellion against Rome. The Zealots and others with a revolutionary bent continually plotted ways to undermine and ultimately depose the Romans. Ultimately, this strategy lead to the Roman decimation of Judea and the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70.

Other Jews rejected this approach, preferring instead to wait for God’s dramatic intervention. The Essenes at Qumran near the Dead Sea had grand visions of an apocalyptic war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, a war in which God would finally vindicate his people and restore both his temple and his kingdom. The folk at Qumran were disinclined to look for human agents who might bring the God’s kingdom, probably because their experience of Hasmonean (Maccabean/Jewish) rule of Judea had been such a negative one.

In many of the Jewish kingdom scenarios, God would act through a human being who would execute divine justice and restore divine rule over Israel. Only a few Jewish texts refer to this human as the Son of Man (literally in Hebrew/Aramaic, “the human being”). More commonly, however, the human agent of the kingdom was called “the anointed one” (in Hebrew, mashiach or “messiah”). There wasn’t one established set of expectations for the messiah, however. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, actually speak of multiple messiahs, including a priestly messiah and a royal messiah.

Common to every Jewish scenario of the coming to the kingdom was the expulsion of the gentiles who ruled over Judea. In Jesus’ day, the Romans were the hated overlords whom, it was hoped, would someday be vanquished by the Lord and his anointed leader. One Jewish writer, perhaps a Pharisee, wrote a collection of psalms, one of which bears passionate witness to Jewish hopes for the coming kingdom:

See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles ... He will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness ... And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy,and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. (Psalms of Solomon 17)

Jesus proclaimed the reign of God to a people who fervently hoped and prayed for its coming. Yet he did not affirm common Jewish expectations for how the kingdom would come. He didn’t raise up an army to wage war against Rome. And he didn’t promise that God would fight this battle himself in some imminent Armageddon. In fact Jesus’ answer to the question “How will the kingdom come?” was quite novel, elusive, and frustrating.

Now that I’ve established the Jewish context for Jesus’ explanation of how the kingdom will come, I’ll focus on Jesus in my next post.

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 2

In my last post, I outlined some of the ways Jews in the time of Jesus answered the question: How is the kingdom of God coming? Though there were a variety of answers to that question, almost all Jews in the first century agreed that the coming of God’s kingdom would include the expulsion of Rome from Judea. The Zealots and others of revolutionary ilk were convinced that this would happen as human beings did the heavy lifting, with some help from the Lord. Others preferred to wait for God to lead the charge. (In the end, the Zealot-option prevailed as the Jews waged war against Rome in A.D. 66-70. The end of this effort, of course, was the utter destruction of the temple and the devastation of the Jewish people.)

Jesus perplexed many of the Jews in his day by his unwillingness to support a revolt against Rome. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Matt 8:5-13), praising this leader in the oppressor’s army as a paragon of faith (v. 10). He hung out with Jewish tax collectors who had collaborated with Rome in order to become rich (Luke 19:1-10). He even appeared to support paying taxes to Rome (Matt 22:15-22).

But, far more confusing than this was what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. God will bless those who are meek, merciful, peaceful, and persecuted, not those who use human strength to fight against Rome (Matt 5:3-10). Moreover, Jesus taught that one should “not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matt 5:39-41). More troubling still, Jesus called his fellow Jews to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:44). In context, there could be no question in the mind of Jesus’ audience to whom he was referring in all of this: the Romans. Don’t fight against the Romans, he said, but love and pray for them.

Can you imagine how controversial this must have been? Here was Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom of God, doing miraculous works to prove that God’s reign had arrived, and yet opposing what most of his peers believed to be an essential element of the kingdom’s coming – the expulsion of Rome and the punishment of all who had oppressed Israel.

For us this can seem very theoretical, far removed from real human experience and emotion. But suppose Jesus appeared on the scene right now in Israel. Suppose he went around telling Israeli fathers whose children had been killed in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks that they should turn the other cheek and love their enemies, and that this was somehow the way to peace. When we put matters in these terms, it’s easier to understand not only why so many people were confused by Jesus, but also why many were so angry at him.

Jesus seemed to be saying that the kingdom of God would come, not through human strength, but through weakness, not through military victories, but through apparent defeat, not through hatred, but through sacrificial love. How could this be possible?

I’ll continue to work on this question in my next post.

How is the Kingdom of God Coming? Part 3

Any consideration of how the kingdom of God is coming must grapple with one of the most striking and surprising passages in the New Testament. The first chapters of the Gospel of Mark chronicle Jesus’ healings, exorcisms, parables, and controversies. Through his words and works, his true identity is seen, but not seen; it is revealed, and yet secret.

In Mark 8 Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” (8:27). Some think that Jesus is John the Baptist reborn. Others think he is Elijah, the prophet whose return signals the coming of the kingdom. Others regard Jesus as “one of the prophets” – a label Jesus himself accepts (see Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24; 13:33). After warming up his disciples with a safe question about what others think, he becomes much more direct and personal: “But who do you say that I am?” (8:29). Peter, always the impetuous one, sticks his neck out with a bold answer: “You are the Messiah” (8:29). In the amplified version we’d read, “You are the one anointed by God to establish the kingdom. You’re the one who will lead the Jews in expelling the Romans from Judea.” Finally the secret is out. Jesus is the Messiah. Peter hit the bull’s eye . . . well, sort of.

No sooner does Peter finish than Jesus shocks him and his colleagues with unprecedented news: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (8:31). Peter is so unsettled by this that he actually takes Jesus aside, no doubt to keep Jesus from being embarrassed with public admonishment and begins to rebuke him. Though Mark doesn’t provide the transcript of this conversation, it isn’t hard to imagine how it might have gone: “Now, c’mon Master. The Son of Man will bring God’s judgment upon the wicked and inherit God’s glorious kingdom (Daniel 7). No suffering and dying here. And the Messiah will lead us to victory over the Romans. Don’t talk about this suffering and dying stuff. It makes no sense.”

Jesus’ responds by rebuking Peter in language that is rather blunt, to say the least: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (8:33). Yeow! This is not what you’d want Jesus saying to you, that’s for sure.

It’s easy for us to look down on Peter as hard-headed, given what we know of Jesus and his ultimate fate. But we must be fair here. What Jesus said about the Son of Man was utterly unexpected. It seemed completely backwards to Peter and the other disciples. The glorious one to be humiliated? God’s victor to be killed? The healer to undergo great suffering? The king of the Jews to be rejected by the Jewish leaders? Peter’s response to Jesus wasn’t foolish or narrow-minded. In fact, it’s the response that I’m quite sure I would have made, if I’d even had the courage to speak up at all.

Given how hard it is for us to grasp the radical and apparently ridiculous nature of what Jesus said about the suffering Son of Man, let me offer the following hypothetical story. As you know, we’re in the beginning stages of the presidential election of 2012. Of course it’s most likely that Barack Obama will be the Democratic candidate, with David Axelrod as one of his major advisors. The Republican race is wide open right now. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Ron Paul get’s the nomination. (According to polls, this isn’t likely, so it’s just a supposition for the sake of this illustration. And, to be clear, I am not using Mr. Paul as an example in order to sneak in an endorsement.) Now, when the election starts going hot and heavy, the candidates would, of course, pummel each other with words even as they endlessly boast of their own accomplishments. But suppose President Obama gathered a small group of his closest supporters and said: “Friends, we’re going to run a very different kind of campaign this year. Instead of blasting away at Ron Paul, we’re going to praise him. We’re going to highlight everything good about him. Moreover, we’re going to admit all of my mistakes, without evasions or excuses. The best thing for the country will be doing everything we can to help Ron Paul get elected.” Don’t you think at this point David Axelrod would take the President aside and rebuke him? Maybe he’d suggest that Mr. Obama needs some serious rest, or perhaps electroshock therapy? This is akin to Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ incredible suggestion that his calling as Son of Man includes suffering and dying. From Peter’s point of view, it makes absolutely now sense whatsoever.

Jesus appears to accept Peter’s confession “You are the Messiah,” even as he refers to himself as “The Son of Man.” But then Jesus redefines the mission of the Messiah/Son of Man in a radically new way. He will bring the kingdom of God, to be sure, but only through suffering and dying. This is how the kingdom will come.

But this answer begs another question: How will the death of Jesus be a pathway for the coming of the kingdom of God?

I’ll pick this up in my next post in this series. Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2012

sharing the gospel

Sharing the gospel with anyone in an overtly sinful lifestyle can be difficult. The following by Michael McKinley is about sharing with gay people but one could easily replace "gay people" with about any category of sin. I thought it helpful.

To be honest, sharing the gospel with gay people* can be intimidating. There is an increasing social stigma that comes with believing that homosexuality is a sin. Frankly, you risk being treated like a racist bigot when you tell a homosexual that they have offended God and should repent.

But here are three questions that I have found useful in these types of conversations. They can help clear some of the brush out of the way so that you can talk about Jesus (which is, after all, the point!). One caveat: people are not evangelistic projects. You need to communicate genuine, personal care for them as a person or else you might do more harm than good when you share Christ with them.

1. Can you still be friends with me even if I think homosexuality is a sin? This question helps to take the temperature down a little and put the “intolerance” shoe on the other foot. It makes it clear that you’re willing to be their friend, but you’re not sure if they are able to accept you as you are. If Christians are going to be a persecuted minority, we might as well take advantage of it!

2. Hypothetically, if you knew that God disapproved of homosexual behavior, would you stop and obey him? This gets at a key issue. It’s not usually fruitful to argue about the meaning of Hebrew words and the context of Romans 1. The bigger issue is whether we are willing to conform our lives to God’s will no matter what we want personally. Follow up questions can include:
  • How do you think we can know what God approves of and disapproves of?
  • Knowing what you do about yourself, do you think you are qualified to be the final judge of what is right and what is wrong?
  • Are all of the desires that spring up unbidden in you good and right? How do you know which ones you should act on and which ones you shouldn’t?
3. Are you happy? This isn’t a foolproof question, but can be quite useful. People in rebellion against God are often miserable. But there’s a certain insanity that keeps us from realizing that following our desires has not paid off at all in terms of personal peace, joy, and happiness. So it can be helpful simply to point out that their philosophy of happiness (do what feels right to me) hasn’t paid off (just as God said it wouldn’t). This opens a door to talk about Jesus who came to give us abundant life.

Ultimately, that is the key. It doesn’t do a person ensnared in sin a lot of good for you to win an argument about homosexuality in the Bible or wider society. They need to be convinced that when God calls them to obey him, he is not taking away the cookies - he’s taking away the poison. When Jesus calls us to lose everything, he’s giving us a far greater treasure in himself.

* I don’t particularly care for the term “gay people” or “homosexual” because it transfers the conversation from behavior and inclination to identity. I use it here for the sake of brevity.

best nature pictures 2012

Truly awesome nature pictures - the best nature pictures of 2012 - at the Big Picture.


Here are some thoughts on the Newtown shootings.

First Doug Wilson in That Will Be Soon Enough reminds us that along with wanting to say the right thing, we want to say it in the right way at the right time. His post was timely for me in the wake of those trying to make political (or social or theological) hay out of this tragedy. It is sad that anyone felt a need to respond quickly either pro or anti-gun control, God's will v. not God's will, etc...

Second, Michael Patton reflects a pastor's heart in the following (How Calvinists Should Not Respond to Newtown) great advice for us Calvinists:
One of my first girlfriends died when she was twenty-one. She was gunned down on her neighborhood street while in her car. The killer was never caught. There was never any motive discovered. She was just found dead, on the side of the road, with seven bullet holes in her chest. I attended her funeral, where the pastor gave the dreaded sermon. How can one respond to such a tragedy? The three worst funerals I have ever conducted were those of a stillborn baby (the memory of the casket will never leave me), a father who died in a house fire in the middle of the night as he tried to rescue his son, and my sister, who committed suicide on January 4, 2004. I know what the pastor was going through when he attempted to find words. He wanted to defend God. The primary question was evident: “How could God have allowed this to happen?” So he believed he had to provide some sort of answer. Although I don’t remember much of what he said, there was one phrase that he repeated with great resolve: “This was not God’s will.” Over and over he said, “This was not God’s will.” This was before I even knew the words “Calvinist” or “sovereignty.” All I knew as I left that place was that I was less comforted and more fearful than when I came. His defense of God made God, in my eyes, a cheerleader in heaven whose willful hand is present when good things happen, but strangely absent when evil comes our way. 
For me, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is not some far-off academic discipline, revived in my mind by arguments – black ink on paper – in some book I read long ago. It is much more endearing. So much so that I often wonder if I grip it so tightly that it may cause me to be unbalanced. 
Never is the sovereignty of God so close as when tragedy enters my life. Because of the pain that follows these tragedies, I often find myself on my knees praying that God is sovereign. “Lord, please don’t let this be some random act in which your hand was not intimately involved. Please don’t be playing a game of chess with evil. Let things be more meaningful. And don’t - please don’t – be nothing more than a cheerleader in Heaven who lowers your pom-poms when pain and suffering strike their dreaded blows. Let your hand be behind it lest I die. Let your shaping hand guide all things.” Having said that, let me give three points of advice to my fellow Calvinists about handling the tragedy in Newtown. 
1. Don’t make this an us (Calvinist) vs. them (Arminian) issue
The issue of God’s sovereignty is not exclusively a Calvinist position. All Christians – Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and the like – believe that God is sovereign. As well, everything I said in my second paragraph (including the prayer) could also be said by an Arminian. Arminians believe God is sovereign. While we may frame things a bit differently, the best Arminians I know don’t think God is a cheerleader, nor do any (but Open Theists) believe he is a chess player. They believe that God is in control and could have prevented the happenings in Newtown. Like us, they don’t know why he did not prevent it. All of us believe that God will bring good out of this tragedy.
When we make it an us vs. them thing, we unwittingly push people to defend extremes that don’t represent the best of their theology. In these battles, unnecessary division takes place between brothers of the same faith as our theology begins to lisp. Don’t make the Arminian theology lisp simply because you want to turn this into an opportunity for theological politics to find a canvas. Arminians, this goes for you too. 
2. Don’t say that this was God’s will
“It was God’s will that this evil occur. He brought it about for his glory!” Simply put, there are way too many qualifiers that we have to add to such statements. In times of emotional hurt and pain, while it may be true that it was God’s “will” for something to happen, it is not God’s “will” for you to pronounce such right now. You see, most of us (Calvinists) know how we distinguish between God’s will of decree and will of desire. We know that there is the will of the heart of God and the will of the hand of God. God’s heart did not want these children to be murdered, and he mourns over the death of those lost. Yes, he decreed it to take place before the foundations of the world, but his heart is not always in concert with his decrees. God is never the agent of sin or evil, but he does make extensive use of it in a fallen world. It is all he has to work with. But when we speak theologically in a time of tender tragedy, while we may think we are being theologically astute, we are not (how can I put this?) using our heads. Wisdom is sometimes betrayed by knowledge. When we say “It was God’s will for these children to die,” to a broken world with undried tears, all you are saying is that killing children represents the heart of God. So “will” may not be the best word to use right now. 
On the converse, saying it was not God’s will for this to happen is just as negative, as it presents to people, at least in their minds, an impotent God who does not have the power to stop such a tragedy. Remember, we believe it was God’s will and it was not God’s will at the same time, but in different relationships to the event. When the time is right, we can publish such theology. But the time is not right. Let’s keep from saying it was God’s will without qualification. It smacks of arrogance and misrepresents the heart of God.
3. Don’t be too quick to respond theologically
So much of the Christian life is a mystery. Mystery’s bed-fellow is silence. There will definitely be a ripening when theological answers are necessary, but our sad countenances will be theological enough for most people. The tears on our own cheeks along with our silence is often the best we have to give in times like this. People need a shoulder to cry on, but it is a much more inviting shoulder when we too are broken before God in the mystery of his sovereignty. Let people be mad at God for a bit. God prefers this to indifference. We are all in a wrestling match with God that is without words. Let’s all wrestle together with the God we love during this terrible time.
Thirdly, Ravi Zacharias provides a sensitive and thoughtful reminder that although there are multiple facets behind this tragedy, there is only one solution:
Before the first murder was committed, the Lord said to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” To gain mastery over sin there is only one way. Just as Victoria Soto put herself in the way so that the children in her class might live, Jesus Christ put himself in the way that we all might live. That is the beginning of the cure for us as individuals and as a nation. All the laws in the world will never change the heart. Only God is big enough for that.
And finally, my good friend Dan Edelen's in Each of Us is a Monster addresses how we view those committing atrocities and our need to label them concluding with the pungent reminder, "[I]t is all a lie. We are, each of us, monsters. And unless we repent of our monstrous proclivities, we will all likewise perish."