Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chesterton: Humility in the Wrong Place

I know this quote is repeatedly often, but it is powerful enough to repeat again:

"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert--himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it's practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1957], pp. 31-32

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Confessions of Faith

We've completed our new Confessions of Faith (currently being proposed to the Church body). This process, which has taken months of deep theological and biblical study, has been an absolute blessing to me. The document below contains two Confessions. First, a "Statement of Basic Beliefs" which we will require that all members affirm. This focuses on the core of the Christian doctrine (particularly those concerning Jesus Christ and the Gospel). The second is the Statement of Biblical Doctrine, which is for those in church leadership (Pastor/Elder/Deacon), which is considerably longer and more detailed.

Keep in mind that final editing is still in progress. Also, Statement #19 on the Return of Christ still needs to undergo a massive revision. We are committed to what is there, but recognize more detail is needed regarding the biblical teachings of the new Heavens & Earth & Christ's eternal kingdom (the leadership of the church wisely felt much more discussion and teaching was needed before making changes to that section).

Confessions of Faith (Indian River Baptist Church)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Sinner's Self Worth

[Dr. Mike Wittmer, a friend and former professor, has posted a devotional that I thought makes two profound statements: one about the ugly reality and sin, and the other about the value even sinful human beings have in the eyes of God. I encourage you to visit his blog]. 3/4/2010 Update: A friend e-mailed me asking if I was uncomfortable with Wittmer's language (the one word that's repeated over and over). I admit there is a bit of crudity here, and this is a word that my own children would be grounded for saying. I have the advantage of knowing Mike personally (a godly man who actively strives to live for God's glory), which is perhaps why I zoomed over that word without much notice. Of course, I realize even the Apostle Paul used crude language at times (much cruder, in fact). Still, don't let this one word keep you from missing the deeper theological gem to be found in the article.

"Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” Abishai son of Zeruiah demanded. “Let me go over and cut off his head!” “No!” the king said. 2 Samuel 16:5-14

A youth pastor doesn’t tell his teenagers that they are sinners because he doesn’t want to leave the impression that they “suck.” A popular author denies that infants are born with a sin nature because that would mean that “babies suck.” And a friend who confessed to an especially offensive sin said “I guess this means I suck.”

Besides their juvenile descriptions of sin, notice that each person confuses sin with self-worth. They assume that sin means they no longer matter, when in fact their sin only matters if they do. Sin is rebellion, and rebellion is only a problem when the rebel carries some weight. If we really “sucked” our sin wouldn’t count for much.

When King David was fleeing Jerusalem he met Shimei, an enraged loner from Saul’s dethroned family who hurled stones and insults at the king’s entourage. David’s men wanted to crush Shimei, but David told them to leave him alone, in part because Shimei was not a threat. Far different was David’s response to Absalom’s army. He knew that these men could destroy him and his kingdom, and so David threw all of his weapons at them in the fight of his life.

God isn’t threatened by our rebellion, but the cross informs us that he takes us and our sin seriously. If we “sucked” would God have given his life to save us? The cost of our salvation reminds us that we and our sin matter to God. If we minimize our sin we also minimize ourselves and the salvation which rescues us.

The surest way to tell someone they “suck” is to ignore their sin. Treat them like a Shimei whose rebellion is of no account. If you want them to know they matter, you’re going to have to talk about sin.

Great Resurgence Commission video

The Southern Baptists have released a video from the Great Commission Task Force. This is an important movement and discussion, and we look forward to hearing more from them. (However, be warned: the video is (a) horribly and unnecessarily long and (b) is essentially little more than a "talking-head" style shoot. I recommend skipping the first 26 minutes). Though I'm not a Southern Baptist, I am excited to see our accented-brethren gearing up for a massive evangelistic program on North American soil.

You can see the video here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dante's Inferno

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". So reads the sign above the gate of Hell in Dante's literary masterpiece The Divine Comedy. Though a work of fiction, the imagined words accuractely capture the biblical description of Hell. It's referred to as eternal, a lake of fire, and a place of torment. Jesus talks about those who "go into hell, into the unquenchable fire…where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (see Mark 9:43ff). It is a place of utter misery, void of all hope and comfort, where people suffer in conscious torment for all eternity.

Yet we live in an age where such unpleasant ideas are shunned in polite Christian conversation. Few believers ever talk about Hell--except for those rabid fundamentalist firebreathers (and you sometimes almost think they WANT people to go there). But the biblical teaching--and the message of Jesus--is crystal clear: Hell is real, real people are there, and ultimately most human beings go there.

This isn't because God isn't loving. Quite the opposite. When a human being rejects God's love & peace (expressed through Christ), the only thing left for all of eternity is wrath & misery. Yet the great message of the Gospel is that we can be freed from that future! No believer in Jesus Christ will ever have to eternally abandon hope, because our trust and confidence is in Jesus Christ--the one whom the Bible calls the "Blessed Hope". The great message comes with a great promise: "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:1), because he has "delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

One gate says, "Abandon all hope"; the other, "Enter into joy". Which will you see?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

8 signs that you may no longer be a Premillennialist

In talking to many of my ministry friends there seems to be an en masse departure from Premillenialism. I'm honestly not sure whether this is because they are embarrassed by the Left Behind series, influenced by more historic Reformed positions, or have come to a new position through careful Bible study.

Regardless, below are a few tell-tale signs that you have left (or will soon leave) the movement. You may no longer be a Premillennialist if:

1. You have to double-check the spelling of Premillennialism EVERY time you write it.

2. You involuntarily roll your eyes when the words "End Times" and "Charts" appear in a single sentence.

3. You can watch Fox World News without thinking, "This could be it".

4. You think Israel might be a tad bit wrong in its handling of the Palestinian situation.

5. When meeting a Jewish person, your first impulse is something other than excitedly saying "My best friend is a Jewish carpenter".

6. You believe Christians should care for and protect the environment (isn't it all supposed to burn up anyway?).

7. When receiving a mailing on an upcoming conference, you immediately throw it in the wastebasket if it mentions "Prophecy" anywhere on the envelope.

8. When hearing that someone has openly abandoned Premillennialism, you nevertheless do not think the words 'heretic' or 'liberal' are appropriate descriptors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Faith Question: Is the Holy Spirit a female?






Q. In one of your recent Twitter posts you mentioned the Hebrew word for Spirit (ruach). A friend says the Holy Spirit is a female. What are your thoughts?

A. Virtually all branches of Christianity would adamately say no (though most would admit that God uses both masculine and feminine imagery to describe himself). At the heart of the issue is (1) the gender of the Hebrew word ruach and (2) the female imagery of the personification of wisdom in Hebrew poetry, which is often thought by some to be a reference to the Holy Spirit.

(1). The Hebrew word for "spirit" is ruach, which can also mean 'air', 'breath', or 'wind'. In the Old Testament, this is the word used to refer to God's Spirit. Often the Hebrew term is ruach hakadosh, which means 'Holy Spirit'; though many times just ruach is used. While it is true that ruach is feminine, it is grammatically feminine---which linguistically does not necessarily have anything to do with actual gender. Every noun and adjective is assigned a gender, thus a stone in Hebrew is grammatically feminine (and stones obviously are not male or female). However, the Greek word for 'spirit' is pnuema, which is grammatically neuter. This is the word Jesus uses to refer to the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the word Paul and the other New Testament writers use. Furthermore, the apostles often quoted from the Septuagint--which was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The word pneuma is the term chosen to translate the word ruach. So, if we were to taken grammatical gender literally then we would be claiming the Holy Spirit underwent a gender change sometime between the Old and New Testament!

There are biblical cases where the pronoun used for the Holy Spirit is masculine (cf John 16:13). Normally in Greek the pronoun and the noun must match in grammatical gender, but at least in a few cases biblical writers intentionally broke grammatical rules in order to intentionally refer to the Spirit as male. Moreover, though ruach is usually femine in Hebrew, there are a few instances where it is in a masculine Hebrew form (ex. Numbers 11:31; Isaiah 57:16). The gender for the word ruach seems to shift and some grammars therefore cite ruach as an example of "common gender".

Simply put, if you were to tell a Hebrew langauge specialist that since ruach is femine then the Holy Spirit must be a female, he would respond by saying that your misunderstanding how the Hebrew langauge works. Because of this, we should also be careful about the masculine language that is most often used of God. We must remember that this masculine language is also grammatically masculine, not ontologically masculine.

(2). The book of Proverbs, which is poetic wisdom literature, focuses on the theme of wisdom. In chapter 8 the attribute of wisdom is "personified", which means it is spoken of as if it were a person. Throughout the centuries many have understood this as a reference to one of the members of the Trinity. In the Early Church period (and continuing today) is was popular to see Wisdom as a reference to Jesus Christ. In the New Testament Jesus is referred to as the "wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:24,30). Others have understood this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, though there is absolutely nothing in the text to sustain that argument.

However, interpreting Wisdom in Proverbs 8 as referring to a member of the Trinity is to blatantly ignore the very nature of the passage. Poets have always used personification, and biblical writers did as well. For example, in Gen 4:7 God tells cain “sin is crouching at the door”. In Psalm 85:10 David says “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”. Even in the New Testament an apostle states “then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). Proverbs 8 isn't describing God. Rather, it is poetically describing the manner in which God created the world and wisdom itself (notice that in Proverbs 8:22-25 Wisdom claims to have been "created"). He brought forth this world in a wise manner, and has laid a path of wisdom for godly men and women to follow.

All in all, there is no literary or linquistic support for the idea that the Holy Spirit is ontologically female (or male, for that matter).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dying to Death - Daily Devo for Fri, Feb 05, 2010

Dying to Death

I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, even if he dies, will live" (John 11:25).

Recently I sat in my office with a man who lost his wife to cancer. They had been married for over 40 years, and I listened as he wept at the loss of his dearest friend and companion. Death is something that is ugly, painful, wretched--and according to the Christian worldview--unnatural. It is unnatural in the sense that it was never part of God's created design. He originally made a world of wonder, joy, and life. Death, along with its twin-brother misery, was only introduced because mankind refused to follow the life-giving way of God. In Jesus, that life-giving way of God is once again set before mankind.

My wife and I are not even mid-way through an average lifespan. Yet one of us will eventually find ourselves saying a painful goodbye to the other. If, in the Lord's wisdom and goodness, I am chosen to be the one looking down upon the grave, I pray that I remember this wonderful promise of Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life! Even though my wife will have died, death cannot keep her. Jesus has conquered her sin and even death itself! How wonderful it is to be fully assured that my beloved bride is eternally secure in the protective hands of the divine Giver of life!

The great promise of Jesus' good news is that new life is offered to us. Death may claim our mortal bodies, but it can never claim the souls and minds of those who belong to Jesus.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dysfunctional Calvinism

Timmy Brister, whose Calvinistic credentials are unquestioned, offers the following assessment of "Dysfunctional Calvinism". I wholeheartedly agree, noting that far too many are drawn to Calvinism for all the wrong reasons. Their error lies not in their doctrinal formulations, but rather in their hearts and atitiudes. I would far rather have a congregation full of Cross-centered Arminians than put up with a handful of dysfunctional Calvinists. Sometimes, the most egregious errors lay closest to the truth.

Brister on Dysfunctional Calvinism:

Dysfunctional Calvinism is the practice of embracing human responsibility in converting people to Calvinism but denying human responsibility in converting people to Christ.

Dysfunctional Calvinism likes to play the “sovereignty card” as a “get out of evangelism” exception clause.

Dysfunctional Calvinism gives an articulation of the doctrines of grace without exhibiting grace to those who disagree with them.

Dysfunctional Calvinism embraces “word” ministry to the exclusion of “deed” ministry–that is the love for the truth does not go far enough. Let’s just have another Bible Study.

Dysfunctional Calvinism finds it easier to talk to Christians about election than the free grace of God to sinners.

Dysfunctional Calvinism turns your right theology in a wrong-headed way, sometimes as a heresy hunter/watchdog blogger and other times a tacit gnosticism.

Dysfunctional Calvinism is gospel-centered insofar as it satisfies their intellectual inquiry but does not inflame their affections and transforms their will in becoming “all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some.”

HT: Arthur Sido

Perspectives - Daily Devo for Thur, Feb 4, 2010

Perspectives

"When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?'" (John 5:6).

Complainers are easy to identify. For the complainer, life is always difficult, work is overwhelming, family is stressful, and other people are problems. In a pound of joy, the complainer will find the ounce of misery.

Yet Jesus has a way of exposing our self-centered complaints and putting our issues in proper perspective. One passage of scripture that helps shatter our complaining-attitudes is found in John 5. It records that while in Bethseda, Jesus visited a pool of water where hundreds of crippled and sick individuals would come hoping for miraculous healing. According to traditional lore, an angel sent from God would occasionally stir the water and the first person to enter the pool would be healed. Near the pool Jesus spotted a crippled man who was unable to use his legs. Because of his disability he never was able to make it to the pool first. He sat by that pool hoping to be healed for thirty-eight years! That's a long time to wait to be healed!

Writing on this passage, Matthew Henry notes, "Shall we, who perhaps for many years have scarcely known what it has been to be a day sick, complain...when many others...have scarcely known what it has been to be a day well?"

In the midst of life-long misery a crippled man waited patiently for healing from the Lord. How can we, who experience such temporary and fleeting misery, then use it as an excuse for complaint and grumbling? Our God is good---therefore live in the joy of that goodness!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Deep Love - A Daily Devo for Wed, Feb 3, 2010

Deep Love

"Love one another" (John 13:34).

Immediately after the service a woman pushed her way to the front. "Pastor", she said, "I disagree very strongly with a word you used". She continued, "You said that all were invited to stay for the fellowship meal after the Church, and then you referred to this as an agape meal."

"Yes", I replied, "that is what I called it".

"But agape is God's love. You're cheapening it by acting as if its something we can do in the church dinning hall".

This woman correctly understood that agape was one of the Greek words for love, but she seriously misunderstood what it truly implied. Often in the New Testament the noun agape (as well as its verb form agapao) was used to refer to God's great love for us. But it was also used to describe the type of love we are to have for Him and for one another. In fact, Jesus tells one person that the whole point of the law was to love (agapao) God with all our hearts and love (agapao) our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Elsewhere he commanded Christians to "love (agapao) one another" (John 13:34). The apostle John goes so far as to declare that "anyone who does not love (agapao) his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). The whole point of the Gospel is to make us like Christ. We are to demonstrate outwardly the love of God that exists inwardly.

After explaining all this the woman was still in disagreement. She stated, "I still think your cheapening this word by using it for a meal".

Smiling, I replied, "Really? Did you know that this is a biblical term? In the letter of Jude (verse 12) he refers to a meal that was shared by believers in New Testament times. Believers would gather together to sing, prayer, meditate on Jesus, and simply enjoy each others company. And do you know what that verse in Jude calls this supper?---its called an agape meal!"

How easy it is for us to claim we love God, all the while cheapening the relationships we have with others. Your involvement with brothers and sisters in Christ is not something that is on the periphery of your spiritual journey--it is part of its very foundation!

Take the great wonderful agape love that God has for you and share it with others.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Empty Chair - A Daily Devo for Tues, Feb 2, 2010

The Empty Chair

"And the name of the city from that time on shall be, 'Yahweh Is There'" (Ezekiel 48:35b).

Ending a ministry-related conversation on my cell phone, I jumped out of the car, shut the phone off, and hurried into the auditorium where my child was about to perform in an afternoon elementary school play. I slipped in a bit late, but just in time to see the children being escorted down the aisle and up onto the stage. My little one saw me and waived excitedly. At that moment I remembered how wonderful it is to be a daddy.

Soon another group of children were being led down the aisle. One in particular caught my attention. She spotted an older lady in the crowd who sat just in front of me (whom I guess was her grandmother) and broke from the line running to her. Pointing to the empty chair next to the woman the little girl asked, "are you saving that chair for Daddy?" The grandmother cleared her throat and said, "I was honey, but your Daddy called and said he couldn't make it". Tearing up, the girl turned and began walking back to the other children, telling one of her friends "my Daddy never comes".

We shouldn't judge this man too harshly. Real life has real problems, and it is very possible this man had legitimate reasons for his absence. But how very different is our heavenly Father. In the verse above, the prophet Ezekiel had just gotten through explaining the wonders of Heaven. But he has saved the best description for last (the very last verse of the book, actually). With all of its wonders and perfections, the best part of heaven is that Yahweh will be there! Daddy's chair will never be empty and we will always be in the presence of a Father who loves and cares for us.

Oh how I long to see that glorious city with its streets of gold! Yet how much more do I long to see the one who sits in Daddy's chair.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pleasantville - Daily Devo for Mon, Feb 1, 2010

A daily devotion for Monday, February 2010

Pleasantville

"Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God..."
Jeremiah 42:6 (NASB)

I love being a Christian---I love everything about it: church life, the Bible, fellow believers, tithing, bible studies, etc. I especially love being an American Christian. As an American I have freedom, a nice car (relatively speaking), an air conditioned home, home owners insurance, and high speed Internet access. Sure, I respect my brothers and sisters overseas who are suffering for the Lord--and I'll even support them financially--but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy what the Lord has given me here, right?

Well, certainly there is nothing wrong with wealth and possessions, but there is a difference between being thankful for a pleasant life and being addicted to and controlled by it. Most Western Christians can go through their entire lives without ever engaging in the radical, all-encompassing, life-transforming mission Jesus has given to us. Why should Satan directly assault the American Christian when he can more easily woo him with the wonders of a pleasant and tame life?

How open are you to hear unpleasant things from the Lord? How would you respond if he asked you to tithe 20% of your income? What if he asked you to let your son or daughter go to a hostile nation for the sake of the Gospel or to fight a losing battle against cancer? What if he asked you to sell your car or forgo your remodel project in order to buy gospel literature for an inner city church? Or perhaps you have never heard God ask these things of you because long ago you stopped listening to anything that seemed unpleasant.

God is asking great things of His people---though do not mistake 'great' for 'pleasant'. Whether He send sorrow or joy, may you faithfully accept whatever your Father (in His great love) sends.